A new translation of a seminal investigation examines the fate of dozens, from Jascha Spivakovsky to Marlene Dietrich’s jazz band.

A brand new English translation of a fascinating book on the plight of the Jewish refugee musicians who arrived in Australia is launching in Sydney and Melbourne. Albrecht Dümling’s 2011 German-language title, Die verschwundenen Musiker. Jüdische Flüchtlinge in Australien (The Vanished Musicians: Jewish Refugees in Australia), reveals the experiences of almost 100 musicians who fled the Nazi regime to end up on our shores. To accompany the launches, Dümling is in Australia to deliver a series of 90-minute talks, each of which is expected to cover different topics.

Musicians Efrem Kurtz and Jascha Spivakovsky

Dümling, a Berlin-based musicologist and music critic, is an authority on the Nazis and their attitudes towards what they described as Entartete Musik (Degenerate Music). An author of seminal texts on Brecht and Weill, he was a consultant on Decca’s award-winning series in the 1990s that brought back to life many ‘lost’ masterpieces from banned – and frequently murdered – composers such as Krenek, Schrecker, Schulhoff, Braunfels, Haas and Ullmann.“It all started with a phone call from George Dreyfus in 1992,” Dümling explains. “He had read my book on Brecht and music. In 1995 I was invited to Australia to lecture in nine universities. My second topic was ‘Music and the Holocaust’. During the visit I discovered that there were other German-Jewish refugee musicians in Australia, and this was an unknown area. It made me curious to learn more about it.”

In his book, Dümling looks at 96 “vanished” German-Jewish musicians, from soloists, orchestral players and conductors to singers and composers, who began to arrive in Australia in the 1930s, many of them abandoning high-flying European careers. “The pianist Jascha Spivakovsky [1896-1970] and his brother Tossy, the youngest concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic, were very successful in Europe,” Dümling says. “So were the Weintraubs Syncopators, the Jazz group that played alongside Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel film.”

The first Musica Viva chamber music ensemble, Dec 1945. L to R: Richard Goldner, Eddie Cockman, Robert Pikler and Theo Salzman

Sadly, many of the refugees were unable to find performance work in Australia as a result of pressure from the Musician’s Union of Australia. “Richard Goldner, one of the first violists in the Musica Viva Orchestra in Vienna, had to work in a factory,” Dümling explains. “The Sydney Symphony Orchestra had heard him play and wanted him to join, but the Musicians Union did not allow it. Only from 1945 was he allowed to work again in his musical profession – he then founded Musica Viva Australia.”

While Jascha Spivakovsky, for example, went on to teach at the University of Melbourne, many were less fortunate. “The conductor Adolf Brenner, once successful in Germany, stopped conducting in Australia and became a Permanent Clerk in the Department of Immigration,” says Dümling. “Other losses to music are the pianist Theodor Schoenberger, or the Jewish cantor Boas Bischofswerder who died in Melbourne only 51 years old.”

Like so many German Jews who escaped to Britain, Israel and the United States, many left behind families who were not so ‘fortunate’ and didn’t survive. “Some refugees were able to bring members of their families to Australia, but many others lost their relatives in the Holocaust, for example Hans Bader, Erwin Frenkel, Horst Graff, Rudolf Werther and Walter Würzburger lost their parents,” says Dümling.

The Weintraub Syncopators

Perhaps the most unusual case in the book is that of the popular Weintraub Syncopators who arrived in Australia in 1937. “They were very successful here,” Dümling explains, “but the Musicians Union prevented them getting positions equal to their artistic quality. In 1940 the German members of the band were interned as enemy aliens and the group no longer existed. After their release from internment, those musicians, once members of the best-paid jazz band in Germany, had to make their living in non-musical jobs.”

In all, three of the 90 musicians portrayed in Dümling’s book are still alive – the composer George Dreyfus (born in 1928), the violinist Andy Faktor (born in 1924) and the conductor Gerald Krug (born in 1932, who arrived as a child in Australia). Diana Weekes new translation of Dümling’s book should act as a welcome reminder of less enlightened times.

The third and final Sydney launch of The Vanished Musicians: Jewish Refugees in Australia is at Sydney’s Goethe Institut on August 23 at 6:00pm. Three Melbourne presentations are planned: at the Jewish Museum of Australia at 2:30 pm on August 28; at The Council of Christians and Jews in Victoria at The East Melbourne Synagogue on August 31; and at The Melbourne University Conservatorium on September 1.