Piercing the Silence: A Memoir in Three Concerts

Overview

 In the last weeks of his life, my father disclosed deeply hidden secrets—stories I had never heard, about his survival of the Holocaust. As a child, I was haunted by the eerie hush surrounding my parents’ experiences during World War II. In the fifth decade of my life, the truth of their history was finally revealed, with one startling revelation.

Shortly after his liberation from slave labor at the copper mines of Bór, Yugosalvia, my father, a professional cellist before and after the war, played concerts in a ragtag Jewish orchestra in Displaced Persons camps throughout Bavaria—two of them led by the legendary maestro Leonard Bernstein. The original programs from 1948 exist as do photographs with Bernstein.

See Janet read from Piercing the Silence: A Memoir in Three Concerts
Hamline University MFA in Creative Writing Graduate Readings

My mother had died only a few months prior. After her funeral, my cousin gave me a forgotten audio cassette. For the first time, I heard my mother talking about herself as an 18-year-old girl in Budapest, witnessing the collapse of her country as her family went into hiding to avoid capture. A few months later, mere weeks before his death, my father recorded his own story too.

Told in layers both epic and personal, Piercing the Silence: A Memoir in Three Concerts (85,000 words) weaves the historical context of Hungary—a country allied to Germany—into my own life as a professional musician and child of Holocaust survivors. Encompassing my family’s survival story, my upbringing in a house darkened by the Holocaust’s long shadow, and further research into my parent’s stories, this book illustrates how music enabled my parents to resume life and offer spiritual sustenance to others in the aftermath of the atrocities of World War II. Faced with the challenge of intolerance in today’s climate of uncertainty and divisiveness, I—like my father before me—find the strength I’ve been searching for in the voice of the cello and a return to my Jewish roots.

A piece of music central to the Jewish people is a thread throughout—a work my father and I performed for over six decades. To coincide with the celebrations of the hundredth anniversary of Leonard Bernstein’s birth, and to commemorate seventy years after the 1948 concert at the former DP camp with Bernstein, I am invited to perform Kol Nidre in Landsberg, Germany in 2018, to stand where my father and the other orchestra members stood, and to honor those who perished there.

Among the many hundreds of books pertaining to the Holocaust, few probe the return to life of survivors, the effects of trauma on the following generation, and the compulsive pursuit to learn the truth. Fewer still explore music’s life-bringing and healing power.

Piercing the Silence is not only a story of human resilience. It is a quest to uncover and make meaning of a fraught upbringing. This book will appeal widely to musicians, music-lovers, history devotees, and those who are pursuing their ancestry. As exclusion again rears its ugly head, and people across the globe struggle with recurring themes of history—the rise of bigotry and intolerance, the scars inflicted by exclusionism, the implications of hatred and fear—it will also have relevance to readers concerned with the experiences of refugees and minorities today.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This