Wolf Durmashkin Composition Award

International composition competition for young artists

Named after Wolf Durmashkin

Wolf Durmashkin was born to a Jewish-Polish family of musicians from today’s Vilnius, Lithuania. The classical music of Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Grieg and Tchaikovsky was well embedded in his family. Wolf Durmashkin was a choir director, composed and also became the director of the Vilnius Symphony Orchestra. After the German occupation of Poland in 1941 he was active only inside the ghetto and concentration camps. Separated from his family, he died in 1944, one day before the liberation by the Red Army in the concentration camp Koogla in Estonia. Durmashkin’s character stands out in literature. 

The orchestra

The sisters of Wolf Durmashkin, Henia (singer) and Fania (pianist) were deported to the Dachau-satellite-concentration camps of Kaufering/Landsberg. In April 1945, when the US Army was advancing, they were sent on the “death march to Dachau”.

Four weeks after their liberation from the camps, the St. Ottilien DP Orchestra was founded, which consisted of a number of musicians. It disbanded in 1948/49 with the emigration of its members to America and Israel. One of the musicians was B. Isma Rosmarin, a pianist, who on the death march, traded his “hand-piano”, an accordion,for two loaves of bread in order to avoid starvation. Like Rosmarin, the conductor Micha Hofmekler also came from the Lithuanian Kaunas and survived the Landsberg concentration camps. On the trumpet and violin were Max Beker, the three Borstein brothers and Chaim Arbeitman –who later changed his name to David Arben and became a member of the Philadelphia Philharmonics.
Other musicians such as George Horvath came from Hungary to join the DP orchestra of St. Ottilien.

The program of the concert on May 10, 1948 in Landsberg, conducted by Leonard Bernstein, reflects the interconnection between Jewish-cultural tradition and classical music.

Making music was a form of spiritual resistance against the National Socialist’s regime. After the end of the regime, one of the orchestra’s goals was to contribute in coping with the traumatic events and experiences of the survivors in the DP camps. Music was the utmost survival tool.

In concentration camps, musicians were often considered privileged: the Nazis loved music.  Captive musicians were forced to play for their tormentors’ entertainment, as well as to distract from the cries from executions or to disperse them. For instance, on the way to an execution, musicians had to intone the children’s song “Hänschenklein”.
However, being a musician was no guarantee for survival. As many others, Wolf Durmashkin fell victim to the atrocities.

It is therefore necessary to fathom the difference between the music from one’s own motives and interests like feelings of despair, humiliation, and hope -as well as the music which was demanded by the National Socialists.

In Kaufering / Landsberg, the partial privilege was only rarely applied. Survivors describe the time between summer 1944 and April 1945 as the worst thing they have experienced. Abba Naor, spokesman of the International Dachau Committee, who was forced to sing for the SS in Kaunas, says about this time:

“In Kaufering, the Nazis robbed my soul”

Survivors all witnessed the torture and execution of family members, friends and neighbors. Despite these tortures, some artists still had the power to write poems and make compositions. In secret, they sang songs, like the International.

The tension curve of the WDCA

“To write a poem after Auschwitz is barbaric”

Adorno’s Dictum from 1949 has often been misunderstood, for he had fled to America in due time.
In contrast Viktor Frankl, who survived the hell of Kaufering/Landsberg, said:

“Yes to life” as in “Now more than ever”

Subjects for the competition therefore are:

  1.      Music and Jewish identity
  2.      Music and resistance
  3.      Music and the Holocaust
  4.      Music at the border of life (Milan Kuna)
  5.      Yes to life, Yes to art, Yes to music

 Karla Schönebeck, Landsberg April 2017