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Classical music with holocaust ties comes to LA

Maria Sławek plays violin at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust.
Maria Sławek plays violin at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust.
KPCC/Austin Cross

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Rare is the recital with so many layers. On Saturday, a musical trio from Poland will perform chamber melodies by some of the country's finest Jewish composers at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust. 

The connection between the composers and the Holocaust is not hard to discern. The men —  Waghalter, Weinberg, Gelbrun, and Fitelberg — all fled Nazi tyranny. Several lost family members. 

In this way, the masters share a common bond with the young performers tasked with interpreting their works Saturday.

"I have to mention the concentration camp in north Poland, which was called Stuthoff," began lead violinist Maria Sławek. "That's the place where my great-grandfather was killed."

Sławek says the fate of her great-grandfather remained a painful subject in her family.

Sławek, who dug deeper into her Jewish heritage as a teenager, says that when she plays music by Polish, Jewish composers, she feels a spiritual connection with the past. 

She spoke with Take Two's Austin Cross.

Austin: The timing of this concert is a bit coincidental. Earlier this month, the president of your country, Andrzej Duda, signed off on a controversial bill regarding the holocaust, making it illegal to say Poland was complicit in Nazi crimes. It’s punishable by jail time. Can you share your thoughts with me on that? 

Maria: Yes, although that's a very tricky question.

Austin: Tricky?

Maria: Tricky, yes. First of all, I have to say that as a Polish woman I'm very much ashamed of what happened. Considering my situation and my own Polish, Jewish cultural background, it's terrifying. 

It's obviously not black and white, and it's difficult for me to find the proper words in Polish because in this situation every word counts. I mean, you can say something, and you can't take it back. 

Second, I thought that in Poland somehow that the antisemitism vanished; I have to say that it hasn't. We have to discuss those who collaborated, those who didn't help, those who acted like nothing was going on. We don't need to fight; we need to say what we did wrong, what we did right and maybe open a new chapter because what happened now is disgusting. 

Austin: Even in America, it’s hard for people to come to terms with the roles that their ancestors might have played in our history. What do you want people who see the performance to take away from your performance Saturday?

Maria: I don't want to sound — how do you say — cheesy —

Austin: Yes, cheesy is the word.

Maria: — that music connects people and so on, but it does. 

We don't use words, we just use notes and impressions, emotions. The program that we chose, we chose it way back. We didn't predict that something like that would happen, but I think it's a nice coincidence that we have many different stories behind the composers. 

We have different stories behind my biography and my friends' biography. We have different pieces: some of them are more connected to the Jewish heritage, some of the less, some of them feel like Polish folk music, but that's exactly what I want to achieve. 

I want to have the proper connection between those two nations that used to live very much close to each other, not always as friends. True to music, you don't always have to be very precise about that. You give emotions, and that's what I want to do. 

(Answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.)