When Bernstein conducted Holocaust survivors

When Bernstein conducted Holocaust survivors


norman lebrecht

April 11, 2018

A photograph unearthed by the National Museum of American Jewish History in New York shows Leonard Bernstein (right), 29 years old, with a group of concentration camp survivors who are being housed in May 1948 in a displaced persons’ camp near Munich.

The survivors had formed their own orchestra and, hearing Bernstein was in town, reached out to him to conduct.

More here.

The image gains poignancy from a 2017 movie I have just seen, Bye Bye Germany, detailing the lives of DP camp refugees.

Catch it as and where you can.


  • Sue says:

    I was terribly moved by this!

  • Caravaggio says:

    Very powerful and moving

  • Rob says:

    He really was amazing.

  • Sharon says:

    Hasn’t opened yet in the US I don’t think

  • David A. Boxwell says:

    N.B. The museum is in Philadelphia. Always worth a visit when in the city.

  • Eric says:

    There are not enough stories captured or told about those in DP camps after 1945. This is such a lovely story – thanks for sharing!

  • Malcolm Kottler says:

    There are two books you can read about displaced musicians after WWII and a documentary movie.

    The documentary movie: CREATING HARMONY: The Displaced Persons’ Orchestra at St. Ottilien.

    Here is one description of this documentary movie, which mentions Leonard Bernstein:

    “Creating Harmony: The Displaced Persons’ Orchestra from St. Ottilien. The film was inspired by Sonia Beker’s book Symphony on Fire and Robert Hiliard’s Surviving the American.

    It is the uplifting true story, narrated by Tovah Feldshuh, of a displaced persons’ orchestra, following several musicians’ journeys from Vilna and Kovna to Dachau and assembling in the Displaced Persons’s Camp of St. Ottilien in Bavaria, Germany.

    From 1945 to 1948, the orchestra played triumphantly in striped concentration camp uniforms, in front of a banner that read “Am Yisroel Chai,” (“The people of Israel live”). After garnering praise for their inspirational performances all over war-torn Europe, the orchestra was asked to perform for the International Tribunal during the Nazi trials in Nuremberg and for the first Zionist congress. David Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir were among the orchestra’s fans, and on two occasions the ensemble was joined in Germany by conductor Leonard Bernstein.”

    Here are the two books that inspired this documentary movie:

    Robert L. Hilliard: Surviving the Americans. The Continued Struggle of the Jews after Liberation (New York: Seven Stories Presss, 1997).

    Sonia Pauline Beker: Symphony on Fire. A Story of Music and Spiritual Resistance during the Holocaust (2007)