The red brick walls of the synagogue in Gora Kalwaria, once a center of Jewish culture in Poland, reverberate anew with music lost in the Holocaust, thanks to one man’s search for his Polish roots.
In the 1930s, a group of Jewish mandolin players from this small town just south of the capital Warsaw gained popularity across the country before many of them perished at the hands of Poland’s Nazi German occupiers.
But in 2007, while retracing his family’s Jewish roots, San Francisco businessman Avner Yonai found a telling photograph in Gora Kalwaria.
In it, he recognized his grandfather and two uncles among a dozen or so mandolin-clutching musicians of what was known as the “Ger Mandolin Orchestra.”
Soon, Yonai began thinking about bringing this pre-World War II musical tradition back to life.
His dream became reality when several renowned mandolin players and guitarists from the US, Canada, Israel, Germany and the Czech Republic responded to his request for musicians interested in the project.
Chris Acguavella, Jeff Warschauer, Abe Schwartz, as well as the Grammy-nominated Avi Avital were among the illustrious volunteers.
“I had the idea to have a modern orchestra play the original authentic repertoire of the orchestra [in which] my grandfather played when he lived in Ger,” which is Yiddish for Gora Kalwaria, Yonai told AFP.
“At the time it was the late 1920s, early 1930s and a band like this one with mandolins, was very popular in the region,” said Henryk Prajs, at 95 one of just two of Gora Kalwaria’s surviving Jewish residents.
He recalls Avner Yonai’s grandfather and the rest of the band playing popular Jewish, Polish, Russian and Italian tunes.
1. telling adj.
生動的；有力的 (sheng1 dong4 de5; you3 li4 de5)
例: The blood on the knife that had his fingerprints on it was the most telling piece of evidence.
2. renowned adj.
知名的 (zhi1 ming2 de5)
例: He’s a renowned biologist.
3. repertoire n.
曲目 (qu3 mu4)
例: Her repertoire is far more extensive than most vocalists.
Prior to World War II, Jews accounted for about half of Gora Kalwaria’s population of 6,000. Jewish culture flourished in the town, but in 1941 the country’s Nazi German occupiers moved the town’s Jewish residents to the Warsaw ghetto, and then sent them to their death at the Treblinka extermination camp.
Eight years on, 11 mandolin players from around the globe pluck away in Gora Kalwaria’s synagogue, recreating the pre-war atmosphere.
Plans are afoot for concerts across Europe, but for Avner Yonai and the rest, nowhere compares to Ger.