Monday, January 07, 2008

How Boris Escaped A Concentration Camp



[Watch the video above of Boris and then read this story below, which describes what's in the video. I met him onboard the ship on this cruise.]


Boris sat back away, silhouetted by the slatted windows behind him. I could kind of half see him and half not, because the dim lights of this shipboard piano bar could not compete with the Mexican sun’s klieg-light intensity coming from the rippling water outside.

I could see that he was little and he was a senior. But his eyes flashed with this brilliant intelligence, and he had a little half smile permanently etched into the folds of his skin.

I had seen him the day before and had been introduced to him by Collin Salter, the amazing Australian pianist singer songwriter. And I remembered that Collin had said that he had played the piano the other night during one of his sets.

(I hadn't hung out yet in the piano bar. I’d been protecting everyone from my cold, which had turned my head into a overstuffed, dripping center of pain).

Boris asked me if I was planning to play right now. I told him I was but I didn’t want to disturb the room if he was enjoying the quiet. He asked me to play him a song. So, I played him “Nobody Leaves New York,” the title song from the new show we're working on. He seemed to really like it.

We then got into a discussion about musicals and he complained about rock music, asking me what I thought.

“Ah,” he sighed, in his German accent. “You probably come from that generation.”

“Actually,” I said. “Yes, I do love rock music, but rock music doesn’t work easily in a musical because it’s very difficult to get any dynamics in the course of the single song. But I think it’s been done successfully.” I told him how much I liked the orchestrations of “Spring Awakening” because they used a simple rock band set-up with a cello.

Suddenly, he sprang to life because he remembered a generational parallel to this argument. “I was a child prodigy in Germany on the piano. They would only teach us classical music.”

One day, a friend of mine said, “You should learn ‘Rhapsody in Blue.’ So I went back to my teachers and told them I wanted to learn ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ and they looked at me and said, ‘We will NEVER allow this in our school!’ and they gave more Bach.”

{Rhapsody in Blue, of course is the great Gershwin piece that first incorporated blues and jazz music into a classical setting. You might know it better as the Theme from United Airlines.)

His family was swept up during Kristallnacht and he was put into Buchenwald concentration camp.

And this is where the story gets amazing. His father was released because he employed a lot of people, but Boris remained in the concentration camp. So, at the last minute, they ran to the family doctor to see if he could help. The doctor was angry with them because they hadn’t come to him before.

Soon afterwards, Boris was called into the commandant’s office. There was a pile of fresh, new clothing for him. “You have friends in very high places,” the commandant said.

The next thing you know, he was released and told to go to America, for which he had already applied.

Years later, as his family read the stories about the war, they discovered that their family doctor was Adolf Hitler's personal physician, drafted into role of taking care of the Fuehrer.

After telling me this story, he sat down at the piano and played a Viennese Waltz.

“In America, I learned the popular songs of the day. I found them quite easy to play even though I’m from a Classical background." He still laughs over the Gershwin moment at school. But then he leaned over to me confidentially and said, “People today. They hear Rhapsody in Blue and they think they’re listening to classical music. What can you do?”
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