at the Museum of Jewish Heritage—A Living Memorial to the Holocaust

NEW YORK, NY — The St. Ottilien Displaced Persons’ Orchestra performed “classical symphonies… Jewish ghetto, folk and Zionist Hebrew songs to grief-eroded souls. It gave them a reason to go on,” according to Sonia Beker, daughter of Max Beker, the orchestra’s violinist. It was 1945 and Jewish survivors in displaced persons camps were struggling to come to terms with the incomprehensible reality of the Holocaust, while trying to hold onto their last shreds of hope and dignity. In this shadow of destruction, when spiritual resistance was more important than ever, something extraordinary took place. Creating Harmony: The Displaced Persons’ Orchestra at St. Ottilien (2007, USA, 75 minutes, DVD) is a remarkable documentary about renewal, resistance, and resilience. The world premiere will be shown on June 10 at 2:30 p.m. at the Museum of Jewish Heritage — A Living Memorial to the Holocaust. The screening will be followed by a discussion with co-producers John J. Michalczyk and Ronald A. Marsh.

The film tells the story of the Jewish orchestra at the St. Ottilien Displaced Persons camp in Bavaria. From 1945 to 1948, the orchestra played triumphantly in striped concentration camp uniforms, in front of a banner that read “Am Yisroel Chai,” (“The people of Israel live”). After garnering praise for their inspirational performances all over war-torn Europe, the orchestra was asked to perform for the International Tribunal during the Nazi trials in Nuremberg and for the first Zionist congress. David Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir were among the orchestra’s fans, and on two occasions the ensemble was joined in Germany by conductor Leonard Bernstein.

While the members of the St. Ottilien Displaced Persons’ Orchestra were extraordinary musicians in their own right, their contributions and experiences were far more than just musical. Henny Durmashkin — whose story is told through historic footage — was profoundly affected by her time as a musician in the orchestra. Ms. Durmashkin’s daughter, Rita Lerner, says, “Music nourishes the soul. My mother often spoke of how fulfilling it was to bring music back to the survivors, helping them to restore their faith and leading them down the long road to healing.

“When Leonard Bernstein came to work with the ex-concentration camp orchestra and accompany my mother on the piano as she sang, it was the most incredible and moving experience. For that brief moment in time Leonard Bernstein helped them feel that they could leave behind the hell they survived and soar into the magical world of music they loved so much. He left an indelible mark on her soul, as well as an amazing legacy,” says Lerner, who is interviewed in the film.

The uplifting history of the orchestra is documented in the film through photographs, archival footage, concert programs, and interviews with participants, audience members, and witnesses.

The film is screened in conjunction with the critically acclaimed exhibition, Daring to Resist: Jewish Defiance in the Holocaust.

Tickets to the film are $10 adults, $7 students/seniors, $5 members. Tickets may be purchased online at or by calling 646-437-4202.

About the Filmmakers

John J. Michalczyk’s other films include: The Cross and the Star: Jews, Christians and the Holocaust; In the Shadow of the Reich: Nazi Medicine; and Displaced: Miracle at St. Otillien. He is also professor/co-director of Film Studies and current chair of the Fine Arts Department at Boston College. A documentary film producer since 1991, and founder of Etoile Productions, he has produced and directed 12 documentaries, scripting eight of them. Several of his films have received regional Emmy awards among other distinctions. Creating Harmony is the much-awaited sequel to the acclaimed Displaced: Miracle at St. Ottilien.

Ronald Marsh was responsible for archival and bibliographical research for the film, as well as co-producing.

About the Exhibition

Daring to Resist: Jewish Defiance in the Holocaust
April 16, 2007-July 2008

“An important exhibition…” The New York Times

During the Holocaust, Jews throughout Europe, through individual and collective acts of resistance, sought to undermine the Nazi goal of the annihilation of the Jewish people. Jews engaged in a range of resistance activities with the aim of preserving Jewish life and dignity despite unimaginable difficulties. Their efforts powerfully refute the popular perception that Jews were passive victims. Through testimony, archival footage, and authentic artifacts, the exhibition helps visitors to understand the dilemmas that Jews faced under impossible circumstances. Whether praying clandestinely, documenting the experiences of Jews in the ghettos, or taking up arms to fight, these responses took many forms, but each and every one was a courageous act of resistance.

This exhibition is made possible through major funding from: Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, the Elizabeth Meyer Lorentz Fund of The New York Community Trust, the Edmond J. Safra Philanthropic Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Humanities,* as well as generous leadership gifts from: Frank and Cesia Blaichman, Patti Askwith Kenner and Family, George and Adele Klein, Ingeborg and Ira Leon Rennert, David and Klara Ringel and Family, Shalom and Varda Yoran. Additional support from: The David Berg Foundation, Nancy Fisher, Robert I. Goldman Foundation, The Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation, L’Oréal USA, Righteous Persons Foundation, and Gil and Claire (Israelit) Zweig. Media sponsorship provided by The Jewish Week.

*Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this exhibition do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.