Rockland pianist who escaped Nazi Germany memorialized in new book

BY DR. LOUIS ALPERT

On February 16, 2017, the Rockland County Times predicted that a major German book would be published containing a chapter honoring Ludmilla Berkwic, a gifted Rockland pianist and piano teacher who passed away in 2005 but is still remembered by the thousands of the students she taught over a period of 50 years!

Fast forward eight months and The Rockland County Times has been mailed a copy of Reinhard Piechocki’s “Unter Blumen Eingesenkte Kanonen”(which translates to: “Guns Dropped Under the Flowers”). This major book about Chopin’s music during the Nazi era contains the subtitle “Chopin’s Music in the Dark Ages,” in which an entire chapter is devoted to Berkwic, who was recognized by Hans Frank, the Nazi’s governor-general of Poland, as the greatest Chopin pianist in Poland.

She was also given the honor to inaugurate the first ever Chopin Museum, which was established by Frank in October 1943 upon the suggestion of the Propaganda minister of Nazi Germany, Joseph Goebbels. Berkwic, whose Jewish origins were hidden from the Nazis, nervously inaugurated this historic museum by playing a Chopin Scherzo on Chopin’s original grand piano before an audience of Nazi officers and Polish citizens. This performance was recorded on film by the Nazis, which was then displayed in all movie theaters in Occupied Poland.

With this type of exposure, Berkwic’s worst fears were realized and she was reported to the Nazis by a jealous Polish pianist as having a Jewish father (whose last name was changed from Berkowitz to Berkwic to escape the wrath of the Nazis). The author, Dr. Reinhard Piechocki, had discovered the website www.ludmillaberkwic.org containing the film of this historic performance.

This very website was the project of this columnist many years ago when he was a personal friend of Berkwic. The website was also recognized by the great filmmaker, Steven Spielberg, who acknowledged my discovery of that long lost film of the inauguration of the Chopin Museum. Spielberg has now included this film in his own film and video archives under the title “Opening of the Chopin Museum.”

Finally, in the year 2017, more than 70 years after the end of World War II, this book written by the German scientist, Dr. Reinhard Piechocki, acclaims and honors the great contributions made by a number of Jewish and other persecuted musicians who magnificently performed Chopin’s music during the Nazi era.

Dr. Piechocki has now requested the assistance of myself along with the Chopin Foundation of the United States and others in helping him establish an English language publication of this book in the US.

Please address all comments and questions to: editor@rocklandcountytimes.com.

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