Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Berlin, 1 April 1933

Tully Potter's two-volume exploration of the life and turbulent times of the violinist and composer, Adolf Busch, will soon be published by Toccata Press. In this extract, Busch and his colleagues in the quartet are confronted with the reality of life in Nazi Germany:

The Nazis had named Saturday, 1 April, as the first day on which they would enforce a boycott of Jewish shops and businesses (in Munich local thugs jumped the gun, beginning it at noon on Friday). The ban was to last from 10.00 a.m. to 10.00 p.m.: Nazi cells were to appoint themselves ‘commissioners for the staff’ in Jewish firms, forbid dismissal of non-Jewish employees and demand the sacking of all Jewish colleagues. At 3.00 p.m. all employees of Jewish concerns were to leave the premises and demonstrate outside. Cameramen would tour every city, filming people who bought from Jewish stores. All such premises were picketed by stormtroopers and bore a placard with a yellow circle on a black background, reading: ‘Closed as a protest against the Jewish atrocity propaganda at home and abroad – the Jewish proprietor of this business is responsible for the safety of this placard, which must be prominently shown’. In Berlin Jews were denied access to the Stock Exchange, Prussian State Library and University; virtually all cafes and cabarets were closed and knots of people stood about, jeering or waiting for trouble to start. The Gestapo made their presence felt, calling at Jewish addresses and taking people away – just an intimidatory move at this stage. ‘Most of us stayed indoors that day,’ Berthold Goldschmidt said, ‘though people were not actually being assaulted in the street.’ Among those defying the boycott and visiting the few Jewish shops which had dared to open was Frau Julie Bonhoeffer, 91-year-old grandmother of the anti-Nazi pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer – she ‘ostentatiously walked through the SA cordon’ to shop at the Kaufhaus des Westens. Carl Flesch Jnr, then 22 and working as an unpaid civil servant or Referendar – until he was barred from entering his office that morning – walked through the Berlin Westend reflecting that as he had lost his job, he had all the time in the world on his hands. He later wrote:

I was amazed by the attitude of the thousands of ‘nice’-looking Germans who crowded the streets. There was no obvious fanaticism, but rather an atmosphere of harmless fun, like a bank holiday on Hampstead Heath. They pointed out to each other and their children gleefully, but usually without sounding in the least malicious, the various insulting graffiti on Jewish shops and the SA men in front of them stopping the occasional defiant customer from entering (although most of the establishments had prudently remained closed anyway). It was then I realised that, for the time being, every layer of the German nation had become infected and there was nothing one could do about it in the foreseeable future.

The atmosphere in Berlin that Saturday was the last straw for Busch and his colleagues, who had to hold their rehearsal at the height of the disturbances. ‘On the way to the church, they saw people smearing stores with swastikas’, said Lotte Busch, ‘and on the way back they saw the mob again.’ The effort of concentrating their minds on Haydn’s most elevated music was harrowing in the circumstances, but a reviewer concluded: ‘The Busch Quartet played the profound pieces […] with the beautiful combination of expression and objectivity that distinguishes its interpretations of classical music’. […] After the concert, the players were openly saying that they could no longer work in Germany. Members of the audience who had come backstage, many of them Jews, were tearfully pleading: ‘You must not leave us. Now we need you more than ever’. But the die was cast. […] Years later Gösta Andreasson reminisced to his opposite number in the Amadeus Quartet, Siegmund Nissel, that Busch called the others to his hotel room at 2.00 or 3.00 in the morning to make their final, agonising decision. Irene Serkin-Busch remembered that her father telegraphed to a few German concert organisations that very night from Berlin, to cancel imminent performances. And Maltschi Serkin, who was staying in the Riehen house, testified that

Frieda was a very impulsive person. Busch, on the other hand, was very quiet but when he was in a rage, he was like an element. He was so enraged that when Frieda saw him in that state, she just quietly packed the suitcases and took him home. If he had shown the rage that was in him, he would have ended up in a concentration camp.

On their way back to Basel, Adolf, Frieda and Rudi were waiting for a train connection at Frankfurt station when they ran into Gustav Havemann. This was the man who in 1932, with the composers Paul Graener and Max Trapp, had proposed forming a Musikkammer to embrace the whole profession, demanding that it should be politically and racially pure – which meant devoid of Communists and Jews. […] ‘The movement is not directed against artists such as Serkin’, he now tried to assure Busch who, with the memory of the anti-Semitic demonstration at the Düsseldorf sonata recital still fresh, angrily brushed him aside. […] At home in Riehen later that day, Adolf was examined by his physician, who diagnosed a severe depression and said he must on no account play in public for the time being. Next day he telegraphed to the organisers of concerts scheduled for Breslau, Darmstadt, Frankfurt and Bremen: ‘Impossible to come, sadly. Letter follows’. The letter, copies of which were sent to the press and interested parties such as HMV, read:

I am sorry that with my sudden telegraphic cancellation I necessarily placed you in a disagreeable situation. Because of the impression made on me by the actions of my Christian compatriots against German Jews, which are aimed at displacing Jews from their professional occupations and robbing them of their honour, I am at the end of my spiritual and physical strength, so that I find it necessary to break off my concert tour in Germany.

Adolf Busch: The Life of an Honest Musician by Tully Potter will be published shortly by Toccata Press as a two-volume set with two CDs of Busch's music, both as a performer and a composer. It is available from all good booksellers.

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