Culture

These Two Incredible Octogenarians Just Formed The “Holocaust Survivor Band” 

by Rafi Schwartz

March 4, 2015
image via video screen capture

Klezmer, the centuries-old Jewish music traditionally played at weddings, has seem something of a revival of late, long after the Eastern European communities from which it came were destroyed in the Holocaust. At its core, klezmer is largely a celebratory music, made for dancing and meant to be played during times of communal revelry, and if you know what to listen for, you can hear strains of klezmer in everything from top forty pop hits, all the way to indie punk bands

With that mind, it might seem strange to hear of a new klezmer act, founded just a year ago, calling themselves the “Holocaust Survivor Band.” After all, mentioning one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century seems conspicuously out of place, if not entirely inappropriate altogether for music intended for jubilant dancing. However, as octogenarians Saul Dreier and Ruby Sosnowicz demonstrate in this short film, shot for the New York TimesOp-Docs series, the founding of their Holocaust Survivor Band is less about dwelling in the horrors of the past, than is it about defiantly overcoming them. Joshua Z Weinstein, the filmmaker behind the short, explains that both men drew upon the music as a means of surviving, and recovering from, the horrors they experienced in Nazi-occupied Europe. 

There is, it should be pointed out, an irony in the films final moments, as Dreier and Sosnowicz sing “to life!” on a Pompano Beach pier: Those words are not, in fact, part of the classic klezmer songbook of pre-20th century Eastern Europe. They come instead from Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick’s 1964 soundtrack to the Broadway classic Fiddler On The Roof, composed long after World War Two had ended. 

And yet, irony or not, there’s something equally wonderful about two men, both having survived unspeakable horrors, singing klezmer-style music written after the communities that birthed that very style were destroyed. It’s a triumphant declaration, and a tribute to both their indomitable spirits and wry senses of humor. And for that, the celebratory melodies and rhythms of klezmer make the perfect soundtrack. 

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These Two Incredible Octogenarians Just Formed The “Holocaust Survivor Band”