Music And Love - Despite The Nazis

Consider Martin Goldsmith lucky. He is the grandson of Alex Goldschmidt. His life is filled with music. Goldsmith is program director of classical music at XM Satellite Radio in Washington, reports CBS News Sunday Morning Correspondent Eugenia Zukerman.

Goldsmith is also the author of The Inextinguishable Symphony: A True Story of Music and Love in Nazi Germany. It is about two young German Jews who became his parents: Gunther Goldschmidt, a flutist, and Rosemarie Gumpert, violist.

The Inextinguishable Symphony is also the story of a remarkable, and little known, Jewish cultural organization his parents were members of, called the Judische Kulturbund. The organization was started by Jewish artists in 1933, shortly after Hitler came to power and began to expel Jews from orchestras and from opera and theater companies.

"If you were in the Kulturbund," says Goldsmith, "you were, in some sense, protected. You were valuable. You were useful to the Nazis. In retrospect, of course, that has given rise to a certain ambiguity about the Kulturbund. But, practically speaking, it certainly saved my parents lives. Had they not been members of this all-Jewish orchestra in Nazi Germany, they wouldn't have made it out of the country alive."

Rosemarie Gumpert joined the Kulturbund in 1935. She was 18 years old. She and Gunther met when they played a concert together. He was 22 and had decided to emigrate to the safety of Sweden. But he could not get Rosemarie out of his mind. Six months later, Gunther returned to Germany to be with her.

"My father must have known what a damn fool thing he was doing: deliberately, and with all his faculties intact, voluntarily going back to Nazi Germany, to the country whose leaders had vowed to eradicate his kind from the earth forever," says Goldsmith. ”And for what? Ah, for love—for music and for love. I don't know if I would have done it, but I do know that I love and admire him for it. I think it's the most wonderful story I know."

Explains his father, "Oh, I was very young and fell in love immediately. And she was attracted to a very blue sweater I was wearing. And she mentioned the sweater for years and years afterwards."

Does he really think it was just the sweater?

”No. Probably what’s in it, I hope.”

Gunther is 87 now. He is retired and lives in Tucson, Ariz. Rosemarie died in 1984, but for Gunther those days in Germany with her were magic.

”Oh, yes! Great music. Great conductor,” Gunther recalls. ”And being we were very much in love, it was a wonderful time. And we did not know. We had blinders. We really had blinders. We didn’t know what was going on. How can one? The people in our cirle did not think that the Hitler regime would survive another change of seasons.”

Yet, the seasons came and went—and Hitler survived. But Gunther and Rosemarie were inseparable. They had one another and they had their music. They would play together with their friends, explains Martin, ”often in very dangerous circumstances. They would quite literally risk their lives by sneaking through the streets of Berlin after curfew.”

Gunther and Rosemarie were married in December 1938, less than a month after Kristallnacht, the Night of the Broken Glass—when the Nazis destroyed Jewish businesses and burned synagogues and beat and killed Jews. Rosemarie and Gunther were safe, but his father, Alex, at home in Oldenburg, was arrested. Alex never imagined this would happen.

”When daylight came on Nov. 10, he and 42 other adult male Jews of Oldenburg were marched through the town,” says Goldsmith, ”and the next day, they were put on a train headed east to the concentration camp at Sachsenhausen, where my grandfather stayed for three weeks before being released from the concentration camp...with the understanding he had six months to leave the country or face further arrest.”

Alex Goldschmidt, by now desperate, tried to flee Germany with his younger son, Helmut. The rest of the family would follow. Father and son found a ship that would take them.

”Alas,” says Martin, ”they had to misfortune of booking passage on the St. Louis, the infamous refugee ship that left Hamburg in May of 1939, bound for Cuba. It was not allowed to disembark its more than 900 Jewish refugees.”

Despite the captain’s pleas to President Roosevelt to let the ship dock in Miami, the refugees were sent back to France.

”Eventually,” says Martin, ”both my grandfather and uncle were shipped to Auschwitz.”

Gunther and Rosemarie escaped from Germany in 1941 and arrived in New York in June. Three months later, the Kulturbund was shut down. The artists who had stayed behind were sent to concentration camps. Gunther and Rosemarie were free, but their families were still in Germany.

Says Martin, "The very last letter that my father received from his father was a letter in which his father said, 'I have described to you all of these conditions under which we are living. Again, I implore you to do everything in your power to get us out. If you do not, it will be on your conscience.'"

Says Gunther, "And there comes the question: Do you feel guilty? And the answer is yes. But I couldn’t do anything, or at least I thought I couldn’t do anything."

Alex Goldschmidt was gassed in Auschwitz. By the end of World War II, the rest of the family in Germany was dead. Seven people in all. Seven out of more than six million Jews killed in the Holocaust.

A few years ago, Martin oldsmith visited Oldenburg. And he took part in the march, commemorating the anniversary of what turned out to be the beginning of the end of his grandfather Alex’s life. The march is Oldenburg’s way of atoning for the sins of its forebears, a ritual of remembrance.

Goldsmith recalls the words of a young German woman he met at the march, a Lutheran pastor:

"'Those whom Germany killed have had their names kept alive by the mark with which God has touched my country.' She smiles sadly and continues, ever so softly, 'And that's the case with Alex. His name shall live forever.' The pastor hugs me then, and I sob on her shoulder, crying for those poor people in their unmarked graves, the relatives I never knew and miss so much."

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