NEW YORK – A full-circle moment is happening at Carnegie Hall this week for a holocaust survivor from Greece.
After being freed from Auschwitz, Michel Assael wrote a symphonic poem in memory of those killed at the concentration camp.
But as CBS2’s Lisa Rozner reported Monday, it’s not until now, decades later, that the public will hear his sentimental work for the first time.
Inside the rehearsal hall on West 37th Street, Deborah Assael-Migliore was hearing the hymns of “Auschwitz,” written by her father, Assael, for the first time. He was 24 years old when the Nazis sent him from Greece to the concentration camp.
“It’s powerful. The first few minutes feels very unresolved and that must be the fear in the beginning of what he was trying to express,” Assael-Migliore said. “His whole experience of what he told me when I was growing up, all the stories I’m hearing in his musical language.”
The Nazis had Assael play the accordion in an orchestra of prisoners.
“They were not playing music for themselves. Nazis made them to play for people who were going to the gas chambers,” pianist Renan Koen said.
Koen, a music educator, is a Turkish Jew who has been organizing performances of compositions related to the Holocaust since 2010. On Wednesday, she will take part in debuting Assael’s more than 100-page work at Carnegie Hall.
The concert, sponsored by the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County, also honors the memory of Austrian composer Viktor Ullmann, who was killed in the gas chambers at Auschwitz.
Ullman and Assael did not know each other, but organizers say it is very plausible that Assael was playing music as Ullman was walked to the gas chambers.
At Auschwitz, playing alongside Assael was Dr. Albert Menashe, who wrote a memoir about his experience, including playing as his teenage daughter was sent to the gas chambers. That memoir prompted Assael to write the symphonic poem 75 years ago.
“It’s never too late and we can never forget, so we have to do it,” said Dr. Joe Halio, president of the Foundation for the Advancement of Sephardic Studies.
“Every bar, every note, I studied,” said Gurer Aykal, music director of the New Manhattan Sinfonietta Orchestra. “He never lost hope.”
“For me, personally, I knew my father more as a bandleader, which is how he knew the entire community I grew up in, yet this is a validation of his skills as a serious composer,” Assael-Migliore added. “On some level, after he wrote a certain amount of composition, he gave up composing. So for this to happen, it’s like his moment. His moment is here and it’s at Carnegie Hall.”
A moment that cannot be put into words.
Assael’s two sisters also survived the war because they were musicians performing in orchestras at concentration camps. For more info on Wednesday’s performance, please click here. Use code HFA38468 at checkout for $ 20 tickets.