"In view of our present societal situation, not only in Germany but worldwide --
both the renewed growth of nationalism
and right-wing radicalism but unfortunately also anti-Semitism -- it is of paramount importance that we take an
Our today's event is to
show this stand."
Gisela Kallenbach (Event Sponsor; Director, Synagogue & Jewish Community of Leipzig; former Member, E.U. Parliament) -- June 2019 remarks introducing Two Pianos Leipzig events
Germany 1933: a beautiful spring marks Hitler’s 100th day in power. His regime already is working through its kill list. Its targets include trade unions and German Communists. But the bulls-eye is Jews -- starting with cultural icons like conductors Otto Klemperer in Berlin and Bruno Walter at Leipzig’s Gewandhaus Orchestra. Brown-shirts agitate on streets and in audiences. Concert halls connected with Jewish conductors are padlocked or vandalized. Jewish musicians are attacked in print, even by mainstream newspapers that seek to please the new government. Klemperer and Walter leave Germany.
In Berlin a group of dismissed Jews petitions for a separate
self-supporting organization that will allow unemployed Jewish artists
to perform for Jewish-only audiences. The “Culture-League of
German Jews” -- Kulturbund Deutscher Juden -- is approved. By 1935 it's the sole public access to culture
for Jews in Germany. Goebbels’ Ministry of Enlightenment oversees its administration,
performers, audience and programs. Certain
‘German’ composers -- Wagner, Strauss, even Beethoven -- soon are off limits. Still dozens of Kulturbund chapters form, including one in Leipzig. Its early members include three young Jewish
concert pianists and their music-loving businessman husbands, Hirsch Bieler-Suwalski, Jacob Schulsinger and Walter Ury.
Two Pianos highlights the tenacity, passion and devotion to craft of its characters. As talented student “alien residents” at Leipzig's famed Conservatory (founded by Felix Mendelssohn), Anna, Halina and Tanya mastered new languages and cultures. As young Jewish mothers they advanced their professional piano careers while juggling child-care and growing Nazi restrictions. Though their paths soon diverged through flight from Germany to safety on one hand, and deportation, the Warsaw Ghetto and forced-labor camps on the other, they reconnected as naturalized American citizens, teachers and performers, remaining close friends throughout their long lives. As the Two Pianos artists who portray Anna and Halina note in the Premiere highlights video, their story "reminds people that they need to appreciate being a human being and being allowed to breathe and lead a dignified life . . . Everyone has something that helps him or her to go through everything. In our case it’s music. In somebody else’s case, it could be literature, art, whatever. . . .We need to know what keeps us alive."
2019-2020 Two Pianos Creations
Papers Please Inc. was founded after the Premiere by Nora Jean and Michael H. Levin (Anna's daughter and son-in-law) and Kenneth Hoffman (Halina's grandson), Two Pianos narrators, to make the characters' vivid journeys more accessible to viewers and readers in the U.S. and abroad.
Within a year this site was on-line and Papers Please (with major commitments from local sponsors) brought our Concert Documentary package to two main stations of the Two Pianos characters' lives:
In June 2019 Two Pianos programs were part of Leipzig's "Schalom Week," a bi-annual welcome for exiled Leipzig residents and their descendants. Our hosts identified an English-speaking videographer to produce a Leipzig highlights video. Our local sponsors provided on-site logistics support including PR, local program printing, and remote printing of an illustrated 32-page takeaway German-language brochure replicating highlights of the Two Pianos Premiere exhibit.
In October 2019 the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University/Newark sponsored a specially-tailored Concert Documentary with audio/video clips, an English-language brochure, and an expanded companion exhibit including tabletop Notepad video loops. A local videographer produced a full-length program DVD of this event, including the post-performance Q and A. A new highlights video focused on the dark journey of Halina and her daughter Jola from their forced 1938 deportation from Leipzig to Poland, through the Warsaw Ghetto and labor/DP camps, to their eventual NJ homes.
In October 2020 Papers Please produced a new overview "sizzle reel" video (top of this page).
2021 and beyond
When COVID-19 suspended live performances, Papers Please formed Penn Convoy Press to publish A Border Town in Poland: A 20th Century Memoir (July 2021), a full-length richly-illustrated nonfiction book that recounts the hairs-breadth entrepreneurial adventures of Anna's husband Hirsch, who makes a cameo appearance in Two Pianos.
Hirsch Bieler’s memoir, dictated four decades ago, traces a nimble émigré’s 30-year odyssey navigating life in the Polish-Prussian border town Grajewo, the Great War’s Eastern Front, Weimar Germany, the Third Reich, and British Palestine to eventual sanctuary in the U.S. His experiences as teenage smuggler, fur trader, and petroleum entrepreneur, told in his own voice, are enriched by historical context, contemporaneous color images, and voices of friends and family writing from locations around the globe. They resonantly capture the people, places and tumultuous times when luck, timing and proper documents meant life or death. “Afterwords” carries the story past the Holocaust and WW II, emphasizing how Hirsch’s formative experiences shaped his century – and reflect themes common to emigrants today.
Additional Penn Convoy Press volumes in this first-person series are in process.
The Two Pianos Project is a "sponsored project" of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization. This relationship allows Papers Please Inc. to receive tax-deductible contributions for specific Project-related activities including A Border Town in Poland. Charitable contributions
to the Two Pianos Project may be made by clicking this link.