JUST AS coronavirus has prevented the annual mass gathering in Yad Vashem's Warsaw Ghetto Square in Jerusalem on the 77th anniversary of the start of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, which in the Jewish world is known as Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Day, so in Warsaw, there will be no mass gathering this year in the near identical square in Poland's capital.
In Poland the commemoration service is always held on April 19, the Gregorian calendar anniversary of the uprising, whereas in Israel and the rest of the Jewish world, it is held in accordance with the Jewish calendar date.
This year, the two dates almost coincide. In Warsaw the commemoration will be on April 19, and in Israel on April 20.
In both Poland and Israel the commemorations will be broadcast. The official opening ceremony from the Mount of Remembrance in Israel was pre-recorded and will be broadcast on television at 8 p.m. on Monday, April 20 at 8 p.m.
Yad Vashem will transmit the opening ceremony complete with simultaneous translation (except for the remarks of President Rivlin and Prime Minister Netanyahu) into English, French, German, Russian and Spanish on Yad Vashem's website. The feed will also be broadcast via Yad Vashem's Facebook page.
For people who believe in gematria which is a semi-mystic means of translating words into numbers and numbers into words giving special meaning to certain numbers as for instance 18 (חי) chai which means life.
In word form 77 equals Mazal (מזל) which means luck, and could signify a turning point in the coronavirus crisis.
At the time of going to press which was on the eve of Passover, April 19 had been designated as the date on which there might be a slight easing of restrictions. That could change of course, and not happen, or the easing could be more liberal than anticipated.
For the past eight years the Warsaw ceremony has included yellow daffodil button holes which are worn just like the British wear red poppies in their button holes on Armistice Day. The red poppies are in memory of soldiers who fell in Flanders fields which are abundant with red poppies, and the yellow daffodils are a form of tribute to the late Marek Edelman, one of the last survivors of the uprising, and a leading cardiologist who died in October, 2009.
Every year, on the anniversary of the uprising, an anonymous person would send a bunch of yellow daffodils to Edelman, and would leave daffodils at the foot of the Warsaw Ghetto monument and at various sites where the fighting took place. In addition to being associated with memory, hope, harmony and rebirth, the daffodil has six petals that frame the center flower known as the corona – not exactly a joyful title at this time, but then again 77 means Mazal. The six yellow petals when flattened resemble the yellow Star of David that Jews were forced to wear on their clothes under the Nazi occupation.
THE NUMBER 77 is also a grim reminder that Holocaust survivors who can testify to that most traumatic chapter not only in Jewish history but in human history, are fading from our presence.
Drummer, singer and composer Nitzan Birnbaum who is the son of former SodaStream CEO Daniel Birnbaum, grew up, hearing from his father the story of the retired Mesorati Rabbi of Netanya, his remarkable, Hungarian-born Grandpa Ervin Birnbaum. Two years ago, Nitzan decided that he wanted to ask his grandfather more, to learn more about him. His grandfather was then 89. Nitzan spent long hours recording him, learning many things that he had not known before.
Ervin Birnbaum grew up in a Hassidic family in Hungary, and had a yeshiva education. Even though his parents and siblings survived, after the war, Ervin became an atheist and decided to come to Israel. His group was on board the Exodus, but was intercepted by the British, and eventually placed in a detention camp in Germany. Even though Ervin was an atheist, he decided to become a rabbi, but at a particular stage of his life he had a revelation and once more became a believer.
After recording and editing his grandfather's story, Nitzan composed a musical background to go with it. This was in fact his first album, and that's how the Saba Project was born. Saba means grandpa in Hebrew.
Every grandparent has a story, says Nitzan, and the best way to create a family legacy and to perpetuate the stories of one's grandparents, is to record them and put them on YouTube. Google him and he will be very happy to compose background music to each story, and will do so free of charge. Aside from bridging the generation gap and strengthening the bonds between grandparents and grandchildren, it is also a way of remembering the stories of Holocaust survivors when they are no longer here to tell them.
A RECENT issue of the International Edition of the New York Times published an obituary for Hellmut Stern, a celebrated violinist with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, who died last month at age 91.
Soon after Kristallnacht, the German born Stern fled with his parents to Harbin China. No other country would accept them.
Stern was then 9 years old. His mother was a pianist who had taught him to play from the age of 5. His father was a voice teacher and the young Hellmut accompanied his father's students when the family lived in China. He had also learned to play the violin and gave his first public concert as a violinist in 1942. The family came to Israel in 1949, and Hellmut found work as a pianist in the bar of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem.
The hotel was always frequented by the rich and the famous, and one such famous person was world renowned violinist Isaac Stern who recognized the talent of the young musician who bore the same surname but was no relation. The older Stern introduced Hellmut Stern to the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra where he was given an audition and subsequently invited to play second violin.
His parents were unable to make ends meet in Israel and moved to Chicago in 1956. Hellmut followed soon after, but worked as a salesman for two years before landing a position with the St Louis Symphony Orchestra, then the Rochester Symphony Orchestra followed by the New York State Orchestra.
He found life difficult in the United States, and although he had been a child when he left Germany, he remained a German in his heart and in his character, and in 1961 returned to what was then West Berlin. He joined the highly reputed Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra which for most of the time was under the baton of Herbert von Karajan, one of the greatest conductors of the 20th century, but also a former member of the Nazi party, a factor which constantly intruded on their relationship especially as all Jewish musicians and works by Jewish composers had been barred from the Berlin Philharmonic during the Nazi era.
Stern's great dream was to have the Berlin Philharmonic perform in Israel. While Israel applauded the idea, it agreed only on condition that there was a conductor other than von Karajan. It was only after he died in 1989, that Stern was finally able to arrange the tour to Israel. The Berlin Philharmonic played at what was then the Mann Auditorium in Tel Aviv in April, 1990 with Daniel Barenboim as the conductor.
The 77 year old Barenboim who was born in Buenos Aires, started out as a child pianist, having learned from both his parents, and gave his first concert at age seven. The family moved to Israel in 1952, when he was 11. Barenboim took conducting classes in Salzburg and later studied composition.
He has directed several orchestras and in 1999, together with Palestinian scholar Edward Said founded the West-Eastern Divan Workshop which every summer brings together young musicians from Israel and Arab countries to play music together and to prove that they can achieve harmony.
In Tel Aviv, thirty years ago, the Berlin Philharmonic played under Barenboim's baton, but also played together with the IPO with Zubin Mehta as the conductor.
Yediot Aharonot music critic Chanoch Ron wrote of how moved to tears he and others in the audience had been when the 120 member Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra had stood to play “Hatikva.”
"That moment symbolized that the Jewish spirit had survived, while the Third Reich had been destroyed," he wrote.
However, despite great strides in reconciliation between Germany and the Jewish people and Germany and Israel, there are still areas too sensitive to touch.
One area is German composer Richard Wagner, who was an outspoken antisemite and one of Hitler's favorite composers. Although an outstanding composer, Wagner is taboo in Israel, but during one of his many subsequent visits to Israel, Barenboim, conducting the Berlin Staatskapelle at the Israel Festival in July, 2009 had the orchestra play Wagner, and it stirred up a hornets nest. Barenboim differentiates between the man and his music.