An Auschwitz composer rises from ashes

An Auschwitz composer rises from ashes


norman lebrecht

April 04, 2018

A Passover event from Diana Castelnuovo-Tedesco:

Tomorrow I will hand-deliver two manuscripts by the Dutch composer Sim Gokkes to the Netherlands Music Institute in The Hague. We found these manuscripts a few years ago in some archives my grandfather had left in Italy when he emigrated to the US.

In 1936, Gokkes asked Mario to write a Lecha Dodi for the Portuguese Synagogue of Amsterdam, where Gokkes was choirmaster. He wrote: “I will be very happy if you can dedicate some time to be able to help me. It’s very necessary that important Jewish composers give their attention to this art.”


Gokkes sent Mario several of his own compositions as a guideline. This was Mario’s first work for synagogue, and he went to it with his usual enthusiasm. As far as I know Mario’s Lecha Dodi was performed at the Synagogue in 1936.

A few years later, Gokkes and his family perished at Auschwitz. Much of this composer’s music has been lost. It brings me great joy and emotion to be able to return these manuscripts to the composer’s archive where, I hope, they will begin a new life.



  • Steven says:

    Just wonderful

  • Jeffrey Biegel says:

    This is truly remarkable. There must be more.

    • Jj says:

      Yes, I think I have some too, I didn’t know where to send it. I just googled the name Sim Gokkes and am surprised to find this!

      • Chris Evans says:

        Hello Jj, I’m currently conducting postgraduate research into the music of Sim Gokkes. Is there a way that I can contact you to discuss your findings?

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    Ugh unfortunate headline.

  • Tony Sanderson says:

    Psalm settings of Sim Gokkes can be found on the 2013 album Tehilim – Psalms between Jusaism and Christianity recorded by the Netherlands Chamber Choir.

    Readers might like to check it out. Available from Amazon or iTunes and elsewhere no doubt.

    I agree with Elizabeth Owen’s comment about the title of the post.

  • Sharon says:

    What a touching story. Several years ago I attended a Carnegie Hall concert of a choral version of the Passover Seder service (which was followed quite closely), a work of two composers (unfortunately I forget their names) who managed, although in hiding in two different European countries, to collaborate on this.

  • Andrea Resnick says:

    There’s a time and a place for wordplay. This is not it. The article is nice but that headline is unacceptable and disrespectful. Please change it.

  • Angela Cox says:

    By chance, I googled my last (maiden) and was so surprised to find Sim (Simon) Gokkes. After some research, I have learned that he was first cousin to my dad’s father, Maurice. The cousins were born a year apart. My dad has always been reluctant to discuss his relations as most died in the holocaust. From Holland, Maurice escaped to England with his wife and two children; then later had my dad. When looking up family, so many with this surname died in Auschwitz. It is interesting to me how Maurice, a barber, escaped but Simon, an accomplished musician, perished with his wife and two children. Upon reflection, I think perhaps Simon had too much to lose; he probably thought the rumors would not come to pass, that somehow, this could not happen…. He was so involved with choirs, the synagogue, etc., he did not want to leave. By the way, his wife was a pianist; they loved their music.
    Accordingly, I do not mind this title at all. Your readers have implied it is distasteful and could be written so for shock value. How shocking is this title compared to the reality? Thank you for posting about Simon Gokkes.