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TV Review: Orchestra of Exiles

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Many stories of heroism came out of the horror of Hitler’s attempted genocide of the Jews in Germany and other Nazi-occupied countries. This film, by Academy Award-nominated director Josh Aronson, tells one of the lesser-known stories, that of Bronislaw Huberman and the founding of the Palestine Symphony Orchestra.

Before the greatest horrors of the Holocaust, in the early 1930s, Hitler began removing musicians from Germany’s orchestras. Suddenly, some of the greatest musicians in Europe were out of work. That is where Huberman took an innovative and courageous stand.

Huberman, born in Poland, was a child prodigy as a violinist. His father took him to Germany to study, and by age 12 he was internationally known. Until the rise of Hitler, he was completely engrossed in his own career. But when he saw what was happening around him, Huberman was able to see that things were only going to get darker for Europe’s Jews.

After visiting Palestine for a concert tour and seeing the influx of Jewish immigrants intent on building a new home there, he had the brilliant idea to form the Palestine Symphony from the best of the unemployed Jewish musicians threatened by the Nazi regime, thus giving them work and a safer place to live, while also fighting the wave of anti-Semitism that was spreading out of Germany by showing these brilliant musicians at their best, using the power of music to combat hate.

Using a combination of vintage footage, interviews, and acting, the film tells the story of the monumental effort that resulted in the formation of the Orchestra. Huberman was helped by the famous conductor Toscanini and that famous amateur violinist, Albert Einstein. It is fascinating to see who took a stand against Hitler early, and who didn’t. Even some of the unemployed Jewish musicians did not realize the danger in time, thinking this was just a passing phase.

Ultimately this is a story of despair and of hope. Huberman was only able to save about 1000 Jews, not many compared to the millions who were killed, but every life is an important one. In addition, he created a great symphony orchestra which still exists today.

The story is a fascinating one. Check your PBS listings for times and watch it if you are interested in classical music or in history. It is worthwhile viewing.

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About Rhetta Akamatsu

I am an author of non-fiction books and an online journalist. My books include Haunted Marietta, The Irish Slaves, T'ain't Nobody's Business If I Do: Blues Women Past and Present, and Sex Sells: Women in Photography and Film.