playing for life

                      1934 Concert Notice -- Leipzig Jewish Community newspaper

 #34. Anna Bieler-Suwalski: 1936 Leipzig Jüdischer Kulturbund Paid Membership Event tri-fold card (with Contribution Event stamps inside). Dimensions: 3 7/8″ x 10 1/4” [fully open with used and unused event ticket stubs – 3 7/8″ x 15”].


(for EXHIBIT Details click here)

(for SOURCE DOCUMENTS click here)

Anna Burstein (b. 1908, Kishinev, Romania) and Halina Neuman (b. 1908, Lodz, Poland) met in 1926 as “alien student residents” at the famed Leipzig Conservatory, each motivated to cross borders and change languages for the chance to master performance craft under legendary professors. Tanya Zunser, a classmate whose Russian parents had settled in Dresden, was a mutual friend.  Anna and Tanya were awarded multiple scholarships to support their studies. Halina’s businessman father paid her way.  After graduating they each began concert careers. Anna and Halina married emigré “East Jews” who settled and worked in Leipzig. Tanya married a department-store magnate “born German” in Leipzig.  Soon all three had small children.

Their lives changed when Adolf Hitler came to power 30 January 1933. After that the young mothers fought to balance careers and threats to family livelihoods while the Nazi net tightened.   In the end the Reich treated them all the same.

From its start Hitler’s regime moved to exclude Jews from “Aryan” life -- first from government employment including universities and over 50 city orchestras, then from the professions, from retirement benefits, and from other spheres.  Within three years Jews would be legally barred from nearly all German economic, political and social life.  Soon Jewish-owned businesses began to be “Aryanized” (legally seized). 

The Judischer Kulturbund

The Kulturbund was formed by dismissed Jewish performers to allow Jewish artists to keep performing -- before segregated all-Jewish audiences.  It was approved by the Nazis in July 1933.  Branches quickly spread from Berlin to over 60 German cities including Leipzig.  By 1936 more than 2000 performers were appearing before 70,000 subscribers in these cities.

In 1934 and 1936 Anna and Halina performed two-piano concerts at the Kulturbund’s Leipzig branch. Tanya was on the branch's Board and also performed.

After Leipzig

Two Pianos follows these talented women before, through and past World War II as they transcend crises and borders to forge new careers and lives.

By 1938 Anna was in Tel Aviv performing on the British Mandate’s Palestine Broadcast System.  Halina was in Salzburg Austria playing Mozart at the famed Mozarteum—a few months before she was forcibly deported from Germany to Poland with thousands of other legally-resident Polish-born Jews. Tanya was in Switzerland with her children while her husband remained in Leipzig navigating the forced transfer of his retail empire to the Reichskommissariat.

In July 1938 Anna arrived in Philadelphia -- among thousands of exiles who fled the Third Reich to enrich their new American home.  For 15 years she performed at local venues, receiving strong reviews. In 1945 she joined the Settlement Music School piano faculty, where she taught for nearly four decades.

Halina did not reach America until 1951 -- after surviving the Warsaw Ghetto, the Polish Home Army uprising against the Nazis, labor / DP camps and post-war refugee stops. Finally she followed her daughter Jola to the States.  Three months later she gave her first American concert. She retired as a piano professor at Rutgers University.

Anna, age 84, playing Mozart with a chamber music program for seniors started by her daughter Tania, and filmed by her granddaughter Stephanie.