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The Holocaust Survivor Band

While we must never forget the horrors and atrocities of the Holocaust – so that they will never be repeated – we must also never forget those who survived and made the world a better place with the lives and gifts that God gave them. Tablet’s Louie Lazar brings us the wonderful story of Saul Dreier, a Holocaust survivor and musician who has put together a band of fellow survivors:

This past April, Saul Dreier, a retired real-estate man now living in Coconut Creek, Fla., read an article about the death of Alice Herz-Sommer, a 110-year-old survivor and accomplished pianist who’d survived a concentration camp by playing music. When Saul read it, he woke up his wife—he had an idea. “Clara!” he cried, “I have to do something!” He told her about Alice’s life story and that he wanted to start a Holocaust survivor band in her honor.

“You’re crazy,” his wife said.

A few days later, Dreier, who was born in Krakow, and survived Mauthausen and two other Nazi concentration camps between 1942 and 1945, approached his rabbi after Shabbat services. He repeated the story he’d told his wife and explained how he’d felt inspired to start a band.

“You’re crazy,” his rabbi said.

After thinking about it, Saul concluded, “I don’t care who says what crazy, how crazy, I’m putting together this band.”

He went to a music store and spent a thousand dollars on a new drum set. Then he went looking for bandmates.

Through a friend, Saul was given the phone number of a musician who sometimes entertained at Café Europa, a social club and support group for survivors. The musician, Reuwen Sosnowicz, had survived the Warsaw Ghetto, escaped, and was then hidden by a Polish farmer in a barn. People called him Ruby.

Saul and Ruby arranged to meet. Saul put the drum set in his car and drove over to Ruby’s house. Ruby’s daughter Chana remembers the day well. Saul walked inside, she said, holding an attaché case and “with a skip in his step.”

Saul sat on the sofa and opened up his case, which contained family photographs. He went into his story about the 110-year-old survivor, and how he’d been inspired by it. He turned to Ruby. “I’m 89, you’re in your 80s. How much time do we have left?” he said. “Let’s donate it to music.”

Ruby led Saul into another room. Saul looked around in amazement. It was filled with instruments, a place “with guitars and more accordions and more everything I ever saw in my life,” Saul said.

Saul set up his drums, Ruby got onto his keyboard, and the two began to play. To Chana, it was a magical and defining moment. Since 2009, she said, when her mother became ill, a house that had once been lively and full of music had become a place of “gloom and doom.”

But now, “all of a sudden it’s like my father came alive,” she said. Saul and Ruby played old shtetl songs they used to sing before and during the war.

Soon after, Saul rented out the South Florida Events Center for a free concert. He and Ruby hired other musicians—descendants of survivors—to accompany the group. And Chana, so moved by what she’d experienced that day, joined as a vocalist.

Ruby was born in Warsaw, Poland, into a large and very musical family. After unsuccessfully fleeing to Russia, his family was confined to the Warsaw Ghetto. Ruby’s recollections are hazy: He was 7 years old. German shepherds were released. People were running and dogs biting. “That’s what I remember—the dogs,” he said recently.

He also remembers running fast, jumping onto a wagon, and burying himself under hay. A Polish farmer found him and hid him in a barn and would discreetly bring him food whenever he went out to feed the horses.

Saul was born in Krakow. His father played clarinet and saxophone. At age 7, Saul received a clarinet as a gift from his father. Saul took it to 2nd grade and would play in class—a Polish song he knew by heart. Then came the war, and the clarinet was sold. His father went off to fight for the Polish Army.

A few years later, inside the Krakow Ghetto, a teenage Saul came across a sick, frail man wearing a cloak. “Don’t you recognize me?” the man asked. Saul did not. “I’m your father,” the man said.

His father and sister were sent to an extermination camp. So were his mother, grandparents, and his aunts, uncles, and cousins—30 relatives in total. Only Saul survived.

When the war ended, Saul landed in a displaced persons camp in Italy. One day a truck appeared carrying a piano and set of drums. When no one volunteered to play the drums, Saul jumped at the chance.

At night, Saul and another survivor, a skilled piano player from Yugoslavia whose wife was a ballet dancer, performed dance music. Creating a beat came intuitively to Saul. “I had two sticks, a drum, and a cymbal and that’s it,” he said, “You don’t have to be a musician to feel the beat—you can smell and hear. You know automatically.”

He said he made money playing professional soccer for an Italian club. In 1949, he arrived in America. He married another survivor, Clara, in 1957. Over the next half-century he’d speak little of his experience during the war.

Ruby wound up in New York. He became a hairdresser and gave accordion lessons. He and his wife both played instruments. His daughter Chana remembers her childhood home as a happy place, where “the windows were open and there was always music coming out of the house.” But like Saul, Ruby didn’t speak much of his past. Maybe they could speak through music instead.

Tags: Holocaust , Arts

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