Why and How the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra

During the rise of the Nazis regime and throughout the Holocaust years there were many stories of heroism that were yet told. One is the story of Bronisław Huberman and his founding of the Palestine Symphony Orchestra, today is known as Israel’s Philharmonic Orchestra.

I first told this story on February 11, 2013 but our duty to tell it again and again.

The fascinating docufilm, Orchestra Of Exiles, about Bronisław Huberman’s mission of mercy and how he saved 1000 Jews from the Nazis’ claws, preserved the seeds of the classical music Jews championed and the culture we so much enjoy today.

Bronislaw Huberman in 1935-Goggle public domain photo
Bronislaw Huberman in 1935- Public domain photo
Toscanini and Huberman at the first concert of the Palestine Symphony Orchestra (1936)-Goggle public domain photo
Toscanini and Huberman at the first concert of the Palestine Symphony Orchestra (1936)-Public domain photo

In 2013, I attended a StandWithUs event, co-sponsored by American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, at the Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills, California. I was privileged to watch the most touching docufilm “Orchestra Of Exiles”.

Huberman’s story is told in an absorbing documentary made by Josh Aronson called Orchestra of Exiles and newly available on DVD.
Josh Aronson is the Writer/Producer/Director of Orchestra of Exiles. As the story goes, one day his friend Dorit-Straus Grunschlag asked him if he ever heard of the prodigious Polish Jewish violinist Bronislaw Huberman. The answer was no. Dorit went on to tell him that due to Huberman she has a large family in Israel and all over the world.

Aronson was intrigued. He began researching the tip Dorit gave him and was exposed to a story about the Oskar Schindler of the Jewish musicians’ world. The result, Aronson decided that it is his moral duty to the Jewish world, in particular, and to the world at large, to document, first time, the life of this renounced, almost forgotten musician, at the time when he ran a saving Jewish lives enterprise, in order to remind humanity that nothing should stand in the way of one’s will. The result is a mesmerizing, seamless docufilm everyone should see.

The docufilm Orchestra of Exiles explores this great man Huberman’s four year odyssey, which culminated in the founding of The Palestine Symphony Orchestra, later to become the renowned Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. This captivating story touches many of the major themes of the 20th century and the unfolding riveting drama of Huberman’s life.

The Palestine Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1936, under the leadership of Bronislaw Huberman. At first, Huberman, a violinist virtuoso, envisioned an international center for the arts, but instead focused on developing a critically acclaimed symphony orchestra. In 1933, when conditions in Europe had become such that Jewish musicians were fired from their jobs, as the expression goes, his ‘token dropped’. He realized he had to found an orchestra that could serve as a haven for persecuted Jewish musicians; that orchestra was to be founded in Palestine of all places. The Jewish yishuv community of pre-State of Israel was longing for culture which they have left behind in Europe; the enthusiasm of having a local symphony orchestra was overwhelming.

Huberman traveled all over Europe and recruited the best of the best of Jewish musicians. Sadly and unintentionally he had to operate along his own selection method, oppose the Nazis selections method, and became the judge of who will live and who will die, as those he did not select to play in his orchestra perished in the Holocaust.

Immigration certificates to Israel were readily available, mostly for working hands, rather than musical instruments’ playing hands. Huberman fought hard to obtain the permits for his band of musicians to enable them to arrive to Palestine and many times he was literally one man against the world’s wrath. But he won by bringing to Israel seventy two top soloist, first chair, musicians and their families, all who were the initial members of the Palestine Symphony Orchestra.

And so Huberman saved 1000 Jewish lives who would have been, otherwise, definitely gassed by the Nazis. Among the orchestra members was David Grunschlag, Dorit Grunschlag’s father, a brilliant violinists, who, in the difficult days prior to the establishment of the State of Israel was called to be a soloist as well as the leader of the violin section of the Palestine Symphony Orchestra.

While rivers of Jewish blood were flooding Europe’s lands, in Palestine exiled Jewish musicians members of the Palestine Symphony orchestras were playing to full houses. The only weapons they had against the Nazi killing machine were their instruments and the music they produced.

While Huberman continued to work on behalf of the orchestra, the great conductor of his time, Arturo Toscanini, agreed to become its first conductor. With the establishment of the state of Israel, David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister renamed the Orchestra the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, today, one of the best Philharmonic Orchestras the world over.

Toscanini and Huberman at the first concert of the Palestine Symphony Orchestra (1936)
Toscanini and Huberman at the first concert of the Palestine Symphony Orchestra (1936)

Bronislaw Huberman was one other Jew who made the difference in times of impossibility. He was a musician, more so a life savior and a leader.

As Theodore Herzl said, “If you will, it is no legend” and Bronislaw Huberman seconded him with his Zionism in musical tones actions.

About the Author
Nurit is an advocate for Jews, Israel, the United States and the Free World in general and sees Israel and the United States, equally, as the last two forts of true democratic freedom. Since 2006, she has been writing about events in these two countries. From Southern California, Nurit believes that if you stand for nothing, you will fall for anything.