Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Helene Holzman

Helene Holzman was a German lady married to a Jewish guy in Kaunas, Lithuania, before the second World War. When the Germans took over Lithuania the inevitable happened - her husband, a bookshop owner, was arrested, as was their oldest daughter, and they were never heard of again. Mrs Holzman and her younger daughter survived the war, first by living quite legally in Kaunas by trying to maintain good contacts with the occupying army (at the same time she managed to help out Jewish people trapped in the ghetto - often slipping them food when she met them on the way to their Arbeitsdienst [work service]). Later they had to hide out staying with friends and sympathetic Lithuanians.

All this is described in a book based on her diary of the events by Helene Holzman ('Dies Kind soll leben') which was published in 2000 - it's a fascinating read. She also describes in some detail the life of the German-Jewish composer Edwin Geist, who was married to a Lithuanian, and had fled from Berlin to Kaunas once the racial terror began in Germany. He suffered badly during the Nazi occupation, first being interned in the ghetto, then released from the ghetto, but his wife remaining in it. He then tries to get her out of the ghetto, and finally succeeds, but only on condition of a divorce and sterilisation. Eventually, however, he is returned to the ghetto and dies there. His archive is now kept by the Lithuanian conductor Juozas Domarkas.

Last night I was at a small do after a concert, and chatting to my viola teacher and another music professor. We were talking about languages - one of them is learning English for the first time, at the age of 60+ and loving it - and they started talking about their German teacher at school, one 'Frau Holzman' who was a brilliant teacher. It turns out that this was the very Helene Holzman of the book. Apparently she had been teaching at Kaunas University, but in Soviet times refused to sign a document approving of the Soviet occupation, so she was demoted to teaching at a music school - where she met two eager lads playing the violin (at the time). She left Lithuania in the early 1960s as part of a wave of repatriation to Germany.

Is it a small world?