Marisia (Miriam) Eisenstadt:
The Ghetto Nightingale
Translated from Hebrew by Ada Holtzman
I believe there is no book about Warsaw under the Nazi occupation, in which the name Marisia (Miriam) Eisenstadt will not be mentioned in a thrill of holiness. In all the official descriptions, in diaries of memoirs, in various documents and records, her name appears together with others who bought themselves eternal name and their deeds were engraved in the horrified history of our People - the Holocaust - not only in golden letters, but mainly and maybe especially - by letters of blood.
"Like a meteor with special light in the sky, the phenomenal singer Marisia (Miriam) Eisenstadt, daughter of David Eisenstadt, the unforgettable choirmaster of the choir of the "Great Synagogue" of Warsaw. She was murdered in one of the Aktions (Aktzia, Akcja) of the liquidation of ghetto Warsaw", registered Dr. Emanuel Ringelblum in his report regarding the cultural activities in the ghetto. This report was smuggled to New York by the underground to be preserved there in YIVO - (the Jewish Scientific Organization).
In his book "Destruction and Rising, the Epic of the Jews in Warsaw" (Palestine 1946), Meilech Neustadt writes about Miriam: "In every one of her shows, crowds used to fill the large "Femina" theater on Leszno Street, which contains thousand seats. Also her father with the symphonic band he founded gave concerts there. Miriam used to be the soloist in the permanent symphonic band under the maestro Szymon Folman and Marian Neuteich. The permanent accompanist was Ignacy Rozenbaum, a world famous artist. From time to time Miriam also participated in concerts organized by the underground".
Jonas Turkow writes about the circumstances of her death in his book: "Farloshene Shtern" ("Extinguished Stars", Buenos Aires 1953): "It is possible that Miriam Eisenstadt, as a young woman, flourishing and beautiful, could have been saved (even temporarily) if she would accept to separate from her parents. But she was so close to them that without them she did not wish to live even a single moment. And while the Germans separated between her and her parents on the Umschlagplatz (the deportation platform), and Dawid Eisenstadt - the famous and great Jewish composer and conductor, the music master of virtue - was pushed, with his wife, into the crowded cattle wagon, compressed with hundreds of victims condemned to a terrible death. At the same time, Miriam was along with another group. She extricated herself from the group and ran to join her parents. Because the entire deportation was destined to go to the Treblinka extermination camp's gas chambers, one destiny befell all the victims. Miriam did not wish to separate from her parents in their last minutes of life. With all her might she burst into the group of her parents and on the threshold of the wagon, German bullet hit her, ending her short blooming life, which contained so much hope and success."
Miriam was known by her nickname "The Ghetto Nightingale" and in her shows she charmed the listeners. Her voice had supernatural force and interpretation with which she electrified the audience. The softness of her voice, her hearty descending portamento's from one note the other, emerged not only from her diligence but also from the many talents she was gifted with. She would n arouse in her listeners indescribable enthusiasm. She was able to embody a typical Jewesses and emphasized in a popular Jewish song the Jewish melos, the Jewish sigh in its utmost expression, and in the same time be magnificent and elegant in performing the most difficult arias from "Madame Butterfly" or "La Traviata".
Miriam was perfect not only in performing material which was well studied and exercised, but she had also initiative, resourcefulness and the talent of creation. She could be trusted upon, that also in free improvisation (ad libitum), she would not disappoint her audience.
In addition to all her talents, Miriam was very beautiful and lovely, amicable, nice to talk with, modest and with pleasant manners. It is no wonder that in her shows she impressed everybody with he shining and noble personality and won always admiration and appreciation.
Miriam Eisenstadt was born in the year 1921. Already in her early childhood she distinguished herself with her musical talents but her father did not want her to become a "wonder kind". She received very serious musical education, and her piano teacher was a known Polish musician, the pedagogue of the Chopin High School for Music, Professor Zbigniew Dziwicki.
She received her general education in the well-known girls' gymnasium "The Jewess" on Dluga Street, school where many of the girls of the Zionist intelligentsia studied. She excelled in her studies and distinguished also by her social activities; she belonged to the committee of the students counsel for mutual aid and she participated in nearly all the social activities initiated by the Gymnasium; helped weak students in their homework and organized performances which were aimed to collect funds for the mutual aid fund.
Miriam planned cultural balls and also performed personally in festive parties which parents and guests attended. The gifted musician, the conductor Jakub Glatstein, who was a music teacher in "Yehudia" ("The Jewess") girls school valued a lot the activities of Miriam and not once did he praise her enormous contribution to the Gymnasium.
She studied how to play the piano systematically, but the singing attracted her and she loved it dearly. When she played she accompanied herself by humming and even, singing, even when she played sonnets or more serious compositions, very difficult to perform by human voice. But Marisia never encountered any difficulties at all. Her voice, lyric coloratura soprano with, was deep and high as if emerge from the abyss and rises to the endless skies. In addition to that, her voice was soft and elastic so that she produced the cadences and the more difficult passages clean and smooth. She was also an excellent solfegist. The most difficult intervals and Chromatic and complicated passages came easily to her even when she did not use the piano. She always asked permission from her father, to move from the piano to singing, but he was determined that Miriam would become a piano player virtuoso and not a singer.
When she had a proper mood, she used to sing to herself, or before her closest friends. These were concerts from the Jewish and classical music. Her father used to sit near the organ which was standing in one of the large hall and started accompanying her in his playing. Marisia used t start with the sentimental songs of Shubert, moved to arias and finish in canto's singing. She floated in higher spheres and was happy from the fact she could give the audience things most dear to her heart. We used to be silent then and wonder about the enigma, from where did she get such a fine and rich repertoire. I shall never forget the evening, in such a performance, she sung "the Night" of Anton Rubinstein (1829-1894), the elegy of Jules Massenet (1842-1912) and the famous chanson which was heard by the Polish famous tenor Jan Kypora, "Aye, Aye, Aye".
Slowly, slowly it became clear to Eisenstadt that Marisia aspires to be a serious opera singer. Finally he decided to help her in fulfilling her dream - elaboration of her voice to perfection - and he himself, whose only very few got he privilege to study from him and his enlarged knowledge of the profession - started to dedicate himself to this cause, passionately and with fatherly devotion. When the time would come, he meant to send her to Italy, and by then, he did his utmost himself. He entered her into the treasures of the artistic song, and she took control of Shubert vocal music, of Mendelssohn and Shumann as well and became an expert in the best of the romantic period and at the same time she did not stop her interest in the folklore popular Jewish song. She was acquainted with tens of the songs of Menachem Kipnis and Mark Warszawski and she sung with enthusiasm also the work of Zajwil Kwartin: "God, the Rock of Israel" or "Look at the sky and see" of Jose'leh Rozenblat (1880-1933).
Marisia Eisenstadt absorbed the spiritual atmosphere of her parents' home. It was the atmosphere of the Jewish European culture. The problems of literature, art, theater and music were her daily spiritual food, and the national Jewish renaissance filled her whole being. She can definitely would be considered as the most beautiful and best young Jewish generation who grew up in Poland between the two world wars.
This is how Marisia Eisenstadt had been until the outbreak of World War II in September 1939. Only a few months after she received her matriculation certificate, while she was walking in the streets absorbed in her dreams and plans for the future - and already many German bombs fell and destroyed Jewish Warsaw - and with her young life. Her image, which was all made of poetry, singing and movement, always full of life, was now secluded itself in doubts, mourning and in fear. She felt in advance the terrible tragedy, which was approaching.
One evening in December 1940, the family members sat together and discussed the actual problem: to escape or not? Marisia's healthy mind demanded clearly: leave everything and run to the borders, as did already thousands of Jews. Also her father was inclined to that direction. It is probably the ancient wandering instinct, which rouse inside him, and like in his young period, when he wandered in the willows of Ukraine with the people of the theater - he wanted now to try his luck and go wherever his feet will lead him. Because it was obvious that worse than then, it would not be possible! But mother had a different stand. She, always the serious one, tent dweller (stay at home), the devoted wife and Jewish Mother, "Is it Possible" she claimed, "here we sit safe in a corner of our own. Whenever we exit of our home, we would become immediately homeless wanderers who seek a place for the night rest. Would we be able to cross borders, wander in the roads no roads and search for a new home? Leaving home means destruction!"
Mother ruled. The destiny of the family was sealed. Maniusia, as her parents called their only beloved daughter, was obliged from that moment to assist in winning bread to the family. She became a professional singer and her reputation conquered Jewish Warsaw. From the first moment she understood that her vocation is a mission, as if she was destined by the tragic fate to lament and to cry over the shocking struggle of the largest Jewish community on earth, to gain another hour of life. The masses of Jews also saw in her singing a mission, which meant to sweeten the last minutes of life of the miserable people. Marisia understood very well that in her singing she brings soul aspiration and hope to the broken and suffering hearts of the Jews of ghetto Warsaw. Her each and every concert became an act of heroism, because she already knew that she and her listeners were doomed to a most cruel death which will arrive sooner or later.
In her Jewish human education, in her noble manners, in her many various talents and in her strong deep power of will to study and always progress, in her lively life and dynamic power of absorbing the cultural values of Europe and the spiritual treasures of our past - Miriam Eisenstadt was a true mirror of the young Jewish generation who grew up in the golden era of the Polish Jewry between the two World Wars. She may be considered as the symbol of the new Jewish generation which grew and matured in Poland and which growth and nourishment were tragically cut off while so young.
This biography is an excerpt from the book: "Jewish Music In Poland Between The World Wars" Hakkibutz Hameuchad, Tel Aviv, 1992 (Hebrew) ISBN 965-02-0060-
Published here with the permission of the author, Issachar Fater, and with the
co-operation of Ada Holtzman. http://www.zchor.org
© Copyright Judy Cohen, 2003.
All rights reserved.