From Buchenwald to Carnegie Hall
Publication Year: 2002
Before the Nazis sent members of the Filar family to Treblinka, these were the last words Marian Filar's mother said to him: "I bless you. You'll survive this horror. You'll become a great pianist, and I'll be very proud of you."
Born in 1917 into a musical Jewish family in Warsaw, Filar began playing the piano when he was four. He performed his first public concert at the age of six. At twelve he played with the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra and went on to study with the great Polish pianist and teacher Zbigniew Drzewiecki at the State Conservatory of Music.
After the German invasion, Filar fled to Lemberg (Lvov), where he continued his music studies until 1941, when he returned to his family in the Warsaw Ghetto. The Nazis killed his parents, a sister, and a brother, but he and his brother Joel survived as workers on the German railroad. After taking part in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, Marian and Joel were captured and sent to Majdanek, Buchenwald, and other concentration camps. After liberation Filar was able to resume his career by studying with the renowned German pianist Walter Gieseking. In 1950 he immigrated to the United States and soon after was performing concerts with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra. He made his Carnegie Hall debut on New Year's Day, 1952. He became head of the piano department at the Settlement Music School in Philadelphia and later a professor of music at Temple University, while continuing to perform in Europe, South America, Israel, and the United States.
Filar does not end his story with liberation but with the fulfillment of his mother's blessing. Without rancor or bitterness, his memoir comes full circle, ending where it began--in Warsaw. In 1992 Filar traveled to Poland to visit the school next to what had once been the Umschlagplatz, the place from which Jews had been sent to Treblinka and where he said farewell to the mother who blessed him.
Marian Filar, an internationally acclaimed concert pianist and retired professor at Temple University, has performed throughout the world and with the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the National Symphony Orchestra, and many others. He lives in Pennsylvania.
Charles Patterson is the author of Anti-Semitism: The Road to the Holocaust and Beyond, Marian Anderson, and The Eternal Treblinka: Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust.
Published by: University Press of Mississippi
Title Page, Copyright Page
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For a very long time I hesitated to come out with my story, even while I read the experiences of others who had emerged alive from the incredible hell of World War II. Somehow I felt that this was my private life and I was not ready to talk about it. I just kept it inside me all these years. But having retired and being constantly...
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New Year's Day 1952. Marian Filar waits backstage in Carnegie Hall's green room before playing a concert with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra. For the previous three days, he has performed with them in Philadelphia, but this concert in New York is different. Inviting Filar to play the Chopin F Minor Second Concerto, Ormandy said, "This will be the first time in the history of...
Part 1: Old World
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I was born in Warsaw, Poland, on December 17, 1917, the youngest of seven children. I grew up living in a large apartment at 18 Gesia Street in a Jewish neighborhood in the northern part of the city, later part of the Warsaw Ghetto. We were a musical family, and there was always lots of singing and music playing at home. My parents were great people who were always encouraging us and joining...
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In September 1932, after two exhausting and unforgettable months of private lessons with Professor Drzewiecki, I sat for my examination to enter the State Conservatory of Music, Professor Drzewiecki prepared the program that I played in front of the musical jury at the Conservatory. When I passed and was accepted into the fourth year of the nine-year program, I was on top of the world! ...
Part 2: Fires of War
War Comes to Warsaw
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World War II began on Friday morning, September 1, 1939, with the German invasion of Poland. On Thursday night people were at home eating their dinners. There was still good food, and war was still only a fear. But from Thursday to Friday the world changed. About 5:30 in the morning we began hearing explosions in the skies over Warsaw. I got up and went to my father, who was standing at...
Refugee in Lemberg
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In Lemberg I immediately became one more of that city's thousands of homeless refugees constantly struggling to find a place to sleep at night. Luckily for me, my sister Lucy and I had attended a student camp the summer before where we had met a couple from Lemberg, Herman Zozowski and his wife, who was also a pianist. When I telephoned them, Herman acted as if he had been expecting my...
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Through it all I managed to keep attending classes at the Conservatory without getting captured. Then one day the director called the ten students without passports into his office. He had very good news. He told us he had managed to acquire documents from the military governor stating that we were "musical workers" needed by the state. Now we had papers. Now we were safe. Now nobody could...
The Warsaw Ghetto
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When I arrived back in Warsaw after being away for more than two years, it was bitterly cold, and things were very different. When I left, there had not been a ghetto. There was a Jewish neighborhood, but Jews lived in every part of the city. Before the war Warsaw had more than one million people, a third of them Jews. While I had been in Lemberg, the Germans had collected Jews from Warsaw, its...
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The creation of the ghetto was especially hard on Jews from outside Warsaw. Warsaw Jews had their own homes or knew someone they could stay with, as we knew Uncle Joe, my mother's brother. Not so lucky were those from outside the city, most of whom were poor village people dumped into Warsaw with just the clothes on their backs and a few other possessions. Warsaw Jews took in as many...
Part 3: Inside the Nazi Camps
Majdanek and Skarzysko Kamienna
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Joel and I spent nine weeks in Majdanek in May and June 1943. I couldn't have lasted longer. In another week I would have faded out of this world, dead from hunger and weakness. Majdanek was a huge camp, run by the Waffen-SS of Lublin, with gas chambers and ovens just like Auschwitz. There was a saying there: "The only way to get out of Majdanek is as smoke through the chimney." ...
Buchenwald and Schlieben
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By September 1944 my brother and I had been at Skarzysko Kamienna for fourteen months. Since the Russian front was advancing westward, the Germans began moving their property back out of harm's way. They again packed us into cattle cars, but this time we went just as we were, dressed in our striped prisoner uniforms, with no possessions or marks of personal identity. I remember our train...
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As our work moving machinery was coming to an end, the eight of us worried that they might make us stir the chemical vats next. It was everyone's nightmare. It meant death. The fact that we looked a bit stronger than many other prisoners didn't help our chances of avoiding the vats. How did we come to look stronger? Some of the armament machinery was being stored in farmers' bams nearby, so when we went...
Part 4: After the Storm
The Tables Are Turned
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The liberators of Nixdorf were not Americans arriving from the west but units of the Free Polish Army advancing from the east with the Soviet Red Army not far away. Now suddenly the tables were turned. Barracks for the slaves of the Third Reich now became barracks holding Germans. Polish infantry went door to door looking for Nazis. If they saw a sign on a door, written in Polish, saying...
Searching for Pieces of the Past
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The citizens of Prague were wonderful to the thousands of refugees arriving at the city gates. These people also had just been liberated, so the city's spirits were high. They put us up in a large, very clean hotel in the center of the city and provided us with food stamps and streetcar stamps so we could eat and travel around Prague for free. The first thing I did after we settled in was go to the Conservatory...
A New Beginning in Germany
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Before the war, I had never been to Berlin, even though it was a center of culture. From 1931 on, when the Nazis were becoming powerful, we stayed away from Germany. Now the once mighty Berlin was quite devastated. Whole neighborhoods were leveled, wiped out. Broken walls, broken buildings, broken streets, craters. The German bastion full of strutting Nazis was now swarming with Allied...
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On that first day, Gieseking invited me to lunch and I met his wife and two daughters, Freya and Jutta. I couldn't help but notice that now the shoe was on the other foot in Germany. It was the Germans' turn to eat very little. The Giesekings were eating nothing but potatoes, while we DPs, supplied by the American army, had food up to our ears. ...
Enter Sol Hurok
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EXiring my first years in Frankfurt I practiced in a small room of our apartment, first on an upright piano and then on a five foot, seven inch Shiedmayer grand piano that Mr. Gembicki lent me. The Shiedmayer was not a bad piano, but it wasn't great. However, things changed in 1948 when I acquired one of the finest old grand pianos in the world—a Steinway C, a salon grand, which at seven...
Farewell to Europe
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The only problem with my studying with Professor Gieseking was that it was keeping my brothers and myself from taking advantage of American laws allowing concentration camp survivors to emigrate. We knew the window of opportunity could close for us if we acted as if we didn't want to go. Luckily, God provides. One day I received a telephone call from an American who said he'd like...
Part 5: New World
Getting Started in a New Land
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On the morning of March 3, 1950, I had my first sighting of the silhouetted skyline of New York City. After a rough, ten-day-long, winter passage, the American military transport ship General Greeley was delivering its cargo of DPs to the United States. I was on deck excitedly waiting for my first view of the most beautiful statue in all the world, the Statue of Liberty. As we approached it, I...
Managing without a Manager
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My Carnegie Hall debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra on New Year's Day 1952 was a great success. I played the Chopin F Minor Second Concerto to thunderous applause, and with my brothers and friends in attendance, it was truly a wonderful moment in my life. Afterward Ormandy complimented me effusively, and all the critics praised my performance. The only thing missing from my...
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When I returned from concerts in South America in 1953, I began taking stock of my situation. I had been in the United States three years, and was, as they say, getting by. The pay wasn't bad for those days, but not great—about two hundred dollars for a performance. I began to tell myself that I had to start making a real living. Since everybody seemed to be teaching at that time—Rudolf Serkin was...
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On September 15, 1959, I moved from New York City to Philadelphia to join the music faculty of Temple University. The position that Dr. David Stone, Dean of the College of Music, offered me was ideal. Teaching ten hours a week allowed me to continue with my students—both my Settlement School students and my other private students, who were now coming to me from Philadelphia...
Return to Warsaw
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For me Warsaw is and always will be a living cemetery where the world I once knew and loved is no more, but where the ghosts from that world are everywhere. In October 1992 I got the opportunity to return to Warsaw when Kazimierz Kord, the conductor of the Warsaw Philharmonic, invited me to perform Chopin's E Minor Piano Concerto with the orchestra. My friend and student, Dr. ...
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Publication Year: 2002