How the Israel Philharmonic Saved Jews From the Nazis

— by Hannah Lee
I did not hear of this in time to write about it for Yom HaShoah or Yom Ha’Atzmaut, but I didn’t want to sit on it for a whole year.  It was aired on Israel’s Channel 2 in April.  My husband’s maternal uncle, Yaacov Mishori, emeritus principal horn player of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and a former member of the orchestra management team, appears on-camera as one of the commentators.  The two video clips together total one hour of viewing; they are in Hebrew with Hebrew subtitles, but some of the people interviewed speak in English.

When you search the origins of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO), you get a brief paragraph on Wikipedia:

The IPO was founded by violinist Bronisław Huberman in 1936, at a time when many Jewish musicians were being fired from European orchestras. Its inaugural concert took place in Tel Aviv on December 26, 1936, and was conducted by Arturo Toscanini.

However, the full story is much more heartbreaking.  

More after the jump.

Bronislaw Huberman, born in Częstochowa, Poland in 1882, was a child prodigy on the violin.  At the tender age of 14, he performed the violin concerto of Johannes Brahms in the presence of the composer, who cried and was “stunned by the quality of his playing.”  [“Around this time the six-year- old Arthur Rubinstein saw one of Huberman’s concerts.  Rubinstein’s parents invited Huberman back to their house and the two boys struck up what would become a lifetime friendship.”]  

During the ’30s, Huberman sought a way to help his fellow musicians who were facing persecution and murder at the hands of the Nazis.  He devised a plan that used the guise of recruiting musicians for a newly created Palestine Orchestra, funding the effort with his own money.  There were only 72 spots in the orchestra.  He auditioned his musicians, standing with his back to the musicians, because he knew that anyone he did not select would most likely perish during wartime Europe.  The chosen ones were all excellent musicians of high-standing.  Some even defected to the kibbutzim shortly after arriving, allowing Huberman the opportunity to recruit additional Jews.  The languages spoken by the early members of the orchestra were German, Polish, Hungarian, and Russian.  The orchestra later changed its name to the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and it played “Hatikvah” at the Declaration of Independence on May 14, 1948 at the Tel Aviv Museum.

In a similar manner was the welcome offered in American academia, including the creation of the Committee on Social Thought in 1941 at the University of Chicago by the historian John U. Nef, the economist Frank Knight, the anthropologist Robert Redfield, and Robert M. Hutchins, then President of the university.   Lore passed down by the students say that the new department was created to provide a convenient haven for refugees fleeing from wartime Europe.  Over the years, temporary and permanent refugee members of the Committee have included Hannah Arendt, Saul Bellow, Allan Bloom, Friederich Hayek, Leszek Kolakowski, Edward Levi, Paul Ricoeur, and Karl J. Weintraub.

The video clips are bracketed by the playing of Brahms in Częstochowa’s synagogue (now a concert hall) by Joshua Bell, an American with Jewish maternal ancestry.  There were dual historical and personal connections, because Bell now plays on a Stradivarius violin called the Gibson ex Huberman (the names of its first two owners), which was made in 1713.  It had been stolen twice in its lifetime: once for three days in 1919 and the second time on February 28, 1936 from the dressing room of Carnegie Hall.  Huberman never saw it again in his lifetime.  The violin only re-surfaced in 1985 with the deathbed confession of the thief, a former nightclub musician named Julian Altman.  Bell was able to buy the violin for just under $4 million dollars, right before it was to be sold to a German industrialist to become part of a collection.   Bell’s maternal grandmother was from Minsk and his maternal grandfather was born in Israel, so Bell mused on the video that “he might have listened to Huberman play.”

International Jewish Funders Network Convenes in Philadelphia


Al Berger and Carol Auerbach, husband and wife, each heads up a private family foundation.  The Auerbach Agency at the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia was founded by Auerbach when she lived in Philadelphia.  Now, as a board member of the Jewish Funders Network, she divides her time between New York City, Seattle, and Jupiter, Florida.

For the twenty-first year, the Jewish Funders Network convened its annual international conference, this time in Philadelphia at Loews Hotel.  The theme this year: What’s Your Story?  The Power of Narrative to Drive Change.

Andy Goodman, the keynote speaker, entertained the audience while transmitting very important points, about how to inspire others to support the various philanthropies represented by the 315 attendees.  

Dorit Straus shared the story of her chance encounter on a New York subway with the famous violist Joshua Bell, learning that Bell was the proud owner of a Stradivarius violin which had once belongs to an earlier generation’s highly regarded violinist, Bronislaw Huberman, who had a dream of creating an orchestra in Palestine.  Huberman managed to collect hundreds of professional musicians, saving them from the Nazis, and eventually establishing the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

More after the jump.


(left to right) Haim Emil Dahan, of Israel, greets Michael and Kristin Karp at the JFN conference at Loews Hotel in Philadelphia.  The conference attracted 315 individual donors, founders and staff members of private Jewish foundations.

Straus enlisted Academy-award-nominated filmmaker Josh Aronson to make a documentary film about the life of this almost forgotten hero, the violinist she credited with having saved her entire family.  Straus is serving as the executive producer of Aronson’s film, which they hope will be completed for a premiere in December 2011 for the 75th anniversary of the Israel Philharmonic.

Straus illustrated the way in which a story motivated the philanthropy.

Carol Auerbach, founder of The Auerbach Family Foundation, and the Auerbach Central Agency for Jewish Education in Philadelphia, spoke to the plenary session about the new technology and means of communicating with a larger audience and with the naxt generation of donors and philanthropists.

The afternoon workshops on Sunday included the well attended Strategic Investment in the New Media Space, moderated by Joshua Miller of the Jim Joseph Foundation, who explained a grant process aimed at 18 to 40-year-olds which involved a collaboration of three funders.


Gwen Borowsky, of the National Liberty Museum, and Eunice Miller, founder of the nonprofit Linkages, enjoyed the sessions at the JFN conference.

Miller introduced a panel, consisting of Lucy Bernholz, president of Blueprint Research and Design;  John Bracken of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation; and David Bryfman, of The Jewish Education Project, focusing on engaging teenagers.
   The seesion alerted the funders to the existence of  the new on-line charity engine, “Kickstart,” which helps all kinds of projects and charities raise funds in a short period of time on the internet.
   There was a lively session on Jewish education with the interesting title, “Nor Your Zade’s (and Bubbe’s) Hebrew School.”
   Another added benefit, besides the quality of sessions and speakers, and the line-up of visits to the National Museum of American Jewish History, as well as the Barnes Museum beofre it re-locates to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, was the opportunity for philanthropists and representatives of foundations from across the country, even from across the globe, to network and share experiences.


Josh Aronson, filmmaker, and Dorit Straus, executive producer of Aronson’s film, inspired by Straus’ encounter on a New York subway with the famous violinist Joshua Bell.  Bell was carrying a Stradivarius once owned by a Jewish violinist, Bronislaw Huberman, who pioneered the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, gathering Jewish musicians who had fled the Nazis and saving 1000 lives in the process.  The film in progress, for which they showed clips, is entitled, “The Orchestra of Exile.”

Martin Lautman, Ph.D., and Betsy Sheerr were delighted to pose with the incoming president and CEO of the Jewish Funders Network, Andreas Spokarniy.

Among the hundreds of Jewish philanthropists gathered in Philadelphia for a three-day conference of the Jewish Funders Network, are (seated) Mark Solomon and Carol Auerbach, and (standing left to right) Paul Silberberg, Robin Batoff, and Morey Goldberg.  The three men are all part of CMS Industries in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, which was a main sponsor of the JFN conference.

Philanthropist Charles Bronfman (right) receives a special award at the Jewish Funders Network from JNF past presidents Murray Galinson and Mark Cherendorff.  Video tributes included one from Shimon Peres.



Charles Bronfman’s 80th birthday happened to fall on the day he was honored in Philadelphia by the Jewish Funders Network.  Representing a group of students who had benefited from Birthright, the Bronfman-supported program which provides the gift of first time educational trips to Israel for Jewish young adults  to strenthen participants’ personal Jewish identity and connection to the Jewish people, are Penn students Elayna Zach and Adam Levinson, alumni of the Birthright program.



At the awards luncheon at the JFN international conference at Loews Hotel in Philadelphia, Bonnie Roche-Bronfman, a nationally recognized architect, was very proud of her husband, the honoree Charles Bronfman, head of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies.  Roche-Bronfman had recently organized and served as set designer for a New York theatrical production, “From the Fire,” commemorating the anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire and tragedy.

Photos: Bonnie Squires.