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2017-08-09

The star went out... Marysia (Miriam) Ajzensztadt

Exactly 75 years ago it was the eighteenth day of the Great Action. During those monstrous days, there were also cases when people taken to the Umschlagplatz were joined by their closest ones wishing to accompany them on their last journey to the unknown. So it was with Ajzensztadt couple and their daughter Marysia – ‘the nightingale of the Warsaw ghetto.’

‘I heard that during yesterday’s slaughter [that is on August 9th], a well-known Warsaw singer Marysia Ajzensztadt was attacked and killed. She was the only child and former pupil of Jehudyjah junior high school’ [Archiwum Ringelbluma. Konspiracyjne Archiwum Getta Warszawy (The Ringelblum Archive. The Underground Archive of the Warsaw Ghetto), vol. 23: Diaries from the Warsaw Ghetto, part 1: Dziennik Abrahama Lewina (Abraham Lewin’s diary), edited by K. Person, Z. Trębacz, M. Trębacz, Warsaw 2015, page 117].

According to Jonas Turkow, Marysia came to the Umschlagplatz together with her parents. During the ‘loading’ of people into cattle cars, her parents got into one of them and then it turned out that it was fully loaded. Marysia, not wanting to separate from her dearest people, tried to force her way into the same car, and then she was shot dead in front of their eyes.

Ilustracja

Miriam Ajzensztadt, photo: Jewish Historical Institute   

Despite her young age, she appeared on the pages of diaries, reports and memoirs of the ghetto, written by Emanuel Ringelblum, Jonas Turkow, Abraham Lewin and Władysław Szpilman.

Marysia (Maria, Miriam) Ajzensztadt (Eisenstadt), affectionately called Maniusia by her parents, was born in June 1921 or 1922 in Warsaw, perished on August 9, 1942 in Warsaw during the Action and completing the transport ‘to the East.’ She was the only daughter of Dawid Ajzensztadt – the composer and conductor of the boys-men choir of the Great Synagogue on Tłomackie Street in Warsaw. She had talent – a magnificent voice – a coloratura soprano, which attracted large groups of listeners. During the concerts, she was also able to improvise. ‘She was excellent not only when she performed what she had learned and practiced, but she also had her own inventiveness, wisdom and creative talent’ [Isachar Fater, Muzyka żydowska w Polsce w okresie międzywojennym (Jewish Music in Poland in the interwar period), Warsaw 1997, page 59]. By many people, she has been remembered as a young, talented singer, a person of extraordinary beauty and personal charm.

Just before the outbreak of the Second World War, she graduated from the female ‘Jehudija’ junior high school at Długa Street in Warsaw, where as a student she organized performances, which earnings fed the student's self-help account. She always tried to help the weaker. At home, thanks to her father she was constantly involved in music. From him she learned Jewish folk songs. He also took care of her musical education. He very much wanted for Marysia to become a pianist. Thus at first she attended the piano class at the Warsaw Institute of Music. Her piano teachers were Maria (Miriam) Bar, and afterwards Professor Zbigniew Drzewiecki. Dawid Ajzensztadt, however, seeing that his daughter wanted to become an opera singer, himself began to teach her singing. He planned to send her to a music academy in Italy.

‘[...] she absorbed the spiritual atmosphere of the parental home, and it was the atmosphere of European Jewish culture. The problems of literature, art, theatre and music were the daily food for the spirit, and the Jewish revival fulfilled all its essence’ [Isachar Fater, Muzyka żydowska w Polsce w okresie międzywojennym (Jewish music in Poland in the interwar period), Warsaw 1997, page 61].

Ilustracja

Koncert symfoniczny z udziałem Marysi Ajzensztadt (Symphony concert with Marysia Ajzensztadt), ‘Gazeta Żydowska’, October 5, 1941, no 94, page 5.   

The outbreak of the war terminated the idyllic life of a young girl, full of plans for the future. Towards the end of 1940, Dawid Ajzensztadt could still escape with his family to the USSR, but following his wife’s admonitions they decided not to. All three ended up in the Warsaw Ghetto. In spite of the terror around them, Dawid Ajzensztadt and his daughter did what they loved – they sang, and in this way they also made money for their daily bread. During the ghetto existence, Marysia became famous not only for her beauty, but also for her beautiful voice, hence she was called ‘the ghetto nightingale’. Her performances were attended by crowds of listeners. Thanks to her singing, they could for a moment forget the surrounding evil. Most often she performed in the Femina theatre at Leszno Street, with the auditorium for about one thousand people. She also performed as a soloist of the symphony orchestra under the direction of Szymon Pulman, who was also her teacher in the ghetto, and of Marian Neuteich. Most often she was accompanied by world-famous soloist – Ignacy Rosenbaum. Years later, her performances in the Sztuka (Art) cafe at Leszno Street were recalled by Władysław Szpilman:

‘It was the largest such place in the ghetto and had various ambitions. In the Sztuka hall, various concerts were held, and Maria Eisenstadt also sang there – she would surely become very famous and known to millions of people if she had not been murdered by the Germans’ [Władysław Szpilman, Pianista. Warszawskie wspomnienia 1939–1945 (The Pianist. Warsaw Memoir 1939–1945), introduction and editing by Andrzej Szpilman, Kraków 2002, page 65].

Sometimes she also participated in concerts staged by underground organizations active in the ghetto. During her performances, she sang well-known hits, opera arias, folk songs in Yiddish and Hebrew (such as Ejli, ejli lama azawtani), but also songs composed in the ghetto, describing the tragedy of everyday life.

Marysia belonged to a generation of young people of great potential whose plans and lives were halted by the outbreak of war. She had every predisposition to make a world career as an opera singer. In her short life, she achieved a lot, but we are fully aware that if her life lasted, she would have left behind much, much more.

In 2011, the March of Remembrance, organized annually by the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, was dedicated to her memory.

Martyna Rusiniak-Karwat

Bibliography:

  • Ajznsztat Miriam (Marysia), [in:] Neustadt M., Hurbn un Ojfsztand fun di jidn in Warsze: Ejdes-Bleter un Azkores, Tel Aviv 1948, pages 342-343.
  • Fater I., Muzyka żydowska w Polsce w okresie międzywojennym (Jewish music in Poland in the interwar period), Warsaw 1997.
  • Turkow J., Farloszene sztern, vol. 1, Buenos Aires 1953, pages 68-73.

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