lady painting

 

Sep 2001 Journal

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Collaboration or self-help?

THE INEXTINGUISHABLE SYMPHONY, Martin Goldsmith, John Wiley & Sons Inc, NY, 2000

The Inextinguishable Symphony is the popular name given to Symphony No. 4 by the Danish composer Carl Nielsen. Written in 1914 it is a transcendent work conceived as a beacon of hope for the forces of renewal that he hoped would follow the carnage of the Great War. It was to have an unanticipated and ironic future, when in 1942 it became the last work to be performed by the Jüdische Kulturbund of Berlin prior to its enforced dissolution and the implementation of the Final Solution.

The Kulturbund is one of the more controversial features of the story of anti-Jewish attrition in Germany after 1933. Historians and commentators on the Holocaust seem divided in their view of it. Originally conceived by Kurt Singer, the former director of the Berlin Opera, he saw it as a way in which Jewish artists who had been removed from their jobs, could be given employment and provide a much needed source of cultural enhancement to the increasingly isolated community. The fact that the Kulturbund was used by Goebbels as a means of propaganda to combat growing international criticism of Germany's treatment of the Jews, has been interpreted by some as a form of Jewish/Nazi collaboration. Martin Goldsmith quite rightly dismisses this reductionist analysis and illustrates in considerable detail, the enormous value the organisation had as a vitally important morale booster for an increasingly harassed and desperate population. As he says, the suggestion that anyone, in the aftermath of Kristallnacht, would have been lulled into a sense of false security and neglected to emigrate because of Kulturbund performances, is basically devoid of conviction. As it happens, his own parents' escape to the USA via Lisbon, only weeks before American entry into the War, amply makes the point that virtually anyone who could, did get out. The problem was the seemingly insurmountable difficulty of so doing, from an economic and bureaucratic point of view, for all but a fortunate minority.

With such a powerful and deeply personal story to tell, it is hardly surprising that the author has succumbed to the temptation to sink into sentimentality and hyperbole. Whilst this tends to create a certain irritating sense of mawkishness, one should not let it obscure the very real depth of research that underpins this rendition of an extraordinary episode in 20th Century history. There is an element of 'Hollywood' story telling in the author's tendency to obscure the demarcations between fact and fictional recreation. Yet, it ultimately prevails as a book worth reading because of the sheer power of its subject matter and the care with which it has been researched.
John Adler

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