Obit of the Day: Concentration Camp Concert Pianist
As Hitler’s Final Solution was implemented across western and central Europe, they did their best to hide the horrors of the concentration and extermination camps from the rest of the world. They even built a “model” camp, Terezin (also known as Theresienstadt), just north of Prague.
The camp was nothing more than propaganda. Designed to give outside observers peace of mind that the camps created to house Europe’s Jews, homosexuals, and Roma, were, in fact, cultural bastions where prisoners were treated well.
Over 144,000 Jews were sent to Terezin, mostly musicians and artists. One of those was Edith Steiner-Kraus, a classical pianist. Mrs. Steiner-Kraus would perform more than 300 concerts at the camp between 1942 and 1945. When she first arrived the pianos needed to be tuned several times a day and were balanced on crates. Later they would receive grand pianos confiscated by the Nazis from homes around Europe.
Terezin hosted more than 1000 concerts and revues and 2400 lectures before the Soviets liberated the camp in May 1945. But few escaped the Holocaust. Of the 144,000 imprisoned at Terezin, only 17,000 survived the end of the war. The others were either sent to extermination camps, like Auschwitz, or died as prisoner conditions deteriorated at Terezin.
Mrs. Steiner-Kraus avoided the gas chambers at Auschwitz several times. She saved herself once by claiming to have a recital. On another occasion, she had to be convinced by friends not to join her husband, Karl Steiner, who was transported to the camp and murdered. (Mrs. Steiner-Kraus’ mother, father, and sister were also killed at Auschwitz.)
After the war, Mrs. Steiner-Kraus moved to the newly established state of Israel. She would begin performing again in 1949 and finally retire from the piano in 1979. Her attention turned to preserving the memory and works of those imprisoned with her at Terezin.
She recorded works by composers held at the camps, especially those of Austrian composer Viktor Ullmann. Mr. Ullmann wrote piano sonata no. 6 while at Terezin and Mrs. Steiner-Kraus premiered the work at the camp. He was murdered by the Nazis during the war.
Edith Steiner- Kraus died on September 2, 2013 at the age of 100.
Sources: The Daily Telegraph and Wikipedia
(Image of a concert poster from Terezin, featuring Edith Steiner-Kraus on piano performing Mozart, Brahms, and Chopin is courtesy of the 92nd Street Y, which has a gallery of Terezin performance posters, and from the collection of the Terezin Memorial)
Other relevant posts from OOTD:
Devy Erlih - Italian Jew saved from the Gestapo because of his skill with the violin
Alexis Weissenberg - He and his mother were saved by a Nazi officer because of his talent on the piano