Wilhelm Furtwangler, principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra from 1922 to 1945, received many government honours and appointments under the Nazi regime, but also used his influence to save hundreds of Jewish musicians from the concentration camps.
In his play Taking Sides, Ronald Harwood focuses on a 1946 investigation to determine whether Furtwangler used his artistic genius to glorify the Nazi’s destructive ideology, or whether, as he insisted, he remained in Germany to safeguard a musical tradition and bring comfort to the German people with his music.
Stage Centre Productions and Chicken Coop Theatre presents Taking Sides for five performances only at the Al Green Theatre, Miles Nadal JCC, 750 Spadina Ave., Nov. 6 to 9. $27.50, $22. Strong language; not suitable for children. 647-831-3980.
* * *
Names in the News: Robert Singer, CEO of the World Jewish Congress, sent a request to online bookseller Amazon.com on Oct. 14 to stop selling books that deny the Holocaust and promote anti-Semitism and white supremacy. The firm had quickly responded to a previous request in 2008, so the WJC announced it was “shocked and disgusted” on Oct. 17 that Amazon had not yet removed the items.
“No one should profit from the sale of such vile and offensive hate literature,” Singer wrote to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. “Many Holocaust survivors are deeply offended by the fact that the world’s largest online retailer is making money from selling such material.”
* * *
Names in the News II: Jack Grinhaus and Lauren Brotman are co-artistic directors of Bound to Create Theatre, which is about to remount their 2010 Fringe Festival hit Dirty Butterfly, a drama by Debbie Tucker Green. Grinhaus and Brotman are also parents of a 10-week old baby, Ethan Jude. Aki Studio, Daniels Spectrum, 585 Dundas St. E., Oct. 30 to Nov. 17. www.boundtocreate.com
* * *
Arts in Brief
• Gilbert Gottfried, Jesse Joyce, Tony Hinchcliffe and Brody Stevens are among the chief “roasters” at the Dark Comedy Festival, which showcases “dark, challenging, controversial and deeply personal comedy.” Danforth Music Hall, Nov 1 to 8. www.EmpireComedyLive.Com
• Kevin Courrier continues his series on the films of Robert Altman with a segment on Film Noir (Part One) – The Long Goodbye. Miles Nadal JCC, Monday Nov. 4, 7 to 9 p.m. $11.25 drop-in. 416-924-6211, ext. 606.
• Osnat Lipa focuses on the work of Georgia O’Keeffe in Art Appreciation – The Symbolic Power of Colour in Art. Miles Nadal JCC, Tuesday Nov. 5, 1:30 p.m. $12 at the door.
* * *
Passages: When Morris Biderman arrived in Toronto from Poland in 1920, he was a triple outsider: an immigrant, a Jew and poor. The son of a rag-picker, he left school at 16 and began peddling newspapers on the street. “I did not need to look far for reasons to become involved with socialism,” he wrote in his 2000 autobiography, A Life On The Jewish Left: An Immigrant’s Experience.
Biderman, who died in Toronto on Oct. 14 at the age of 105, worked for the communistic United Jewish People’s Order from an early age. But when he joined J.B. Salsberg and others on a fact-finding mission to the Soviet Union in 1956, he, along with Salsberg, returned utterly disillusioned with the Stalinist regime, having realized it had been murdering and persecuting Jews and trying to sweep these crimes under the rug. That knowledge led Salsberg, Biderman and others to make a famous and highly controversial break from the UJPO to found the New Fraternal Jewish Association (NFJA) in 1960.
The event caused an enormous rupture in the Jewish left across Canada.
“They felt that much of what they had been told [by Moscow] over the previous two decades had been false, just a bunch of lies,” said David Abramowitz, UJPO’s longtime president.
“When they left UJPO, they took about 200 members with them, and there was a great dichotomy in the membership. The animosities were great, and horrible accusations were slung back and forth. For four years that carried on, and some people continued the animosities and never forgot about ‘those traitors that had left.’”
On the belief that culture was the best way to attract young people, Biderman helped establish UJPO’s youth movement, as well as its Youth Singers and Folk Singers, who toured across Canada. Later he helped put Yiddish cultural values at the forefront of the NFJA.
According to Abramowitz, Biderman was instrumental in establishing Friends of Yiddish, the Committee for Yiddish, the annual summer concert at Earl Bales Park and other mainstays of the Toronto Jewish cultural scene.
Biderman operated a small printing shop, but worked his entire life in furtherance of socialist and communist ideals. “Am I sorry for having belonged to the party for 30 years?” he wrote.
“[M]y answer is no. I am not sorry… I was working day to day among comrades and friends for an organization and cause I believed in.”