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Joseph Toltz: Final project report

By Joseph Toltz

In January 2018, prior to the final conference at the British Library, I went to Spain to interview Liliana Cordoba-Kaczerginski, the daughter of the most significant Holocaust zamler (collector of Yiddish music), Szmerke Kaczerginski. Ms Cordoba-Kaczerginski generously gave of her time and talked to me about the songs for which her father was most famous.

After the conference, I flew to Vienna where I had the opportunity to hear a performance of two of Wilhelm Grosz’s larger symphonic works: his Overture für einer Opera Buffa Op. 14, followed by the one-act tragic-comic burlesque Achtung, Aufnahme! Op. 25. Both works were performed by students of the Musik und Kunst Privatuniversität der Stadt Wien, directed by the wonderful Dr. Andreas Stoehr. In the 1920s, the first work was later adapted as the overture for Grosz’s only large-scale opera, Sganarell. This modern performance took place on 18 January 2018 at the RadioKulturHaus ORF, and was the premiere of Achtung, Aufnahme! in Grosz’s home town.

Performances of music by Wilhelm Grosz, Vienna, January 2018 (flyer)

In April 2018 I travelled to the United States to co-present with Dr Anna Boucher at the 25th International Conference of Europeanists in Chicago. We talked about our work with the first Holocaust songbook, Mima’amakim: folkslider fun di getos un lagers in poylin. Joining us on our panel was Dr Brigid Cohen (NYU) and Dr Andrea Bohlman (UNC-Chapel Hill). Both Brigid and Andrea gave engaging and fascinating papers, with responses from the inspirational Professor Leora Auslander (University of Chicago). I had two other speaking engagements on this tour of North America. I gave the Al and Malka Green Lecture in Yiddish at the Anne Tanenbaum Centre for Jewish Studies, at the University of Toronto. My subject was on musical memories from Łódź Ghetto Child Survivors in Australia, which can be viewed on YouTube.

The second engagement was a very special symposium, Laughing at Power, Fascism and Authoritarianism: Satire, Humor, Irony, and interrogating their Political Efficacy. Scholars from around the world gathered to talk these issues through, with three special performances to add to the mix: Eli Valley talking about comics as protest art, Jewlia Eisenberg and David Shneer performing anti-fascist cabaret songs by Lin Jaldati, and Anna Shternshis and Psoy Korolenko singing Yiddish anti-fascist songs from wartime Soviet Union, rediscovered in the Beregovski Archive in Kiev, Ukraine.

Special Presentation: Torah Scroll rescued from Czechoslovakia, Jewish Holocaust Centre in Elsternwick

Arriving home in Australia, I travelled to Melbourne to consecrate a Czech Torah scroll at the Jewish Holocaust Centre in Elsternwick. The scroll was saved from Nazi desecration in the early 1940s, neglected during the Communist era and saved again in the 1960s, when it and 1567 other scrolls were relocated and restored by The Memorial Scrolls Trust at Westminster Synagogue. The scroll is from the town of Valašske Meziríčí in Moravia. Six Jews survived from this town. The synagogue was destroyed in the 1950s and the desecrated cemetery bulldozed. As custodians for the scroll, the Jewish Holocaust Centre will give new life to this scroll and its story.

Today (June 26th), I’m sitting in a small apartment in Vienna, having spent the last 8 or so days going through the Wilhelm Grosz Archive at the Exil.Arte Zentrum. It was 7 years ago that I got to know Dr Michael Haas. It was his introduction to Jean Forman that placed me on the road to discovery with Wilhelm Grosz, and it was Performing the Jewish Archive who brought Grosz back to the listening public most recently. The family archive is in safe hands here at Exil.Arte. The generosity of Professor Gerold Gruber, Dr Michael Haas, Dr Ulrike Anton and the wonderful and helpful archivist, Katharina Reischl, has been overwhelming. I must thank the Sydney Conservatorium of Music for allowing me to take time off to do this initial examination of the material (which only arrived in Vienna two weeks prior to my visit).

Wilhelm Grosz

I have been through almost every box of Grosz’s collection, and as well as piecing together the puzzle of this remarkable life, there are some wonderful and exciting discoveries waiting to come to life again in performance. I am especially grateful to Magistera Anita Taschler and Professor Gerold Gruber for facilitating funding through the Erasmus+ scheme. None of this would have been possible without Performing the Jewish Archive. The project has provided opportunities for research and travel that I never thought possible, and I am eternally grateful to the Leeds and York team, and the UK Arts & Humanities Research Council for believing in the vision articulated in 2014.

Dr. Joseph Toltz
Sydney Conservatorium of Music
The University of Sydney

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