• Yehudi Menuhin and Herbert Sulzbach – a friendship

    Yehudi Menuhin and Herbert Sulzbach became friends in 1956. They shared a Jewish background, a love of music, and a passion for reconciliation.

    After the Second World War, Menuhin had played on his violin, accompanied on the piano by Benjamin Britten, for the survivors of Bergen-Belsen as part of a short tour of the Displaced Persons camps. He had also performed in Germany with the Berlin Philharmonic in 1947, under Wilhelm Furtwängler, and also made recordings with him. Furtwängler had been criticised for conducting in Germany during the Nazi period but Menuhin defended him, pointing out that Furtwängler had helped a number of Jewish musicians to flee Nazi Germany. Menuhin's stated purpose in these acts of reconciliation was to rehabilitate Germany's music and spirit.

    When Sulzbach formed the Featherstone Park Association in 1960, he chose Menuhin as one of its patrons. Three years later, Menuhin said in a speech at the German Embassy,

    'The Featherstone PoW camp healed and encouraged the human heart and spirit. Instead of wounding and destroying life, instead of awakening hate and intolerance, it furthered and generated the only basic principle of mankind's survival – that is, mutual respect and mutual trust. Even now, twenty years later, the living memorial of those who shared its daily routine, continues as one instrument of harmony, echoing on through the generations.'

    On 6 October 1978 Sulzbach was presented with the Europe Peace Cross. Menuhin wrote to him,

    'May I take this symbolic moment of your receiving so richly-deserved an award to tell you how invaluable your example continues to be in a world increasingly reduced from the multi-coloured tailored dress of distinctive cultures to the undistinguishable torn rags and tatters of an as yet unevolved universal culture and conscience. On this long and gruesome path, increasingly stained by our ancient unrepentant curse of fracticidal destruction, a few human beings have provided vision and hope – you are certainly one of them.'

    After Herbert Sulzbach's death in 1985, Yehudi Menuhin's sister - Yaltah Menuhin Ryce - played Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy's 'Variations sérieuses' on the piano at the commemoration event.

    (photo: Yehudi Menuhin at a reception at the German Embassy, London)


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On my blog I write about biography, Anglo-German reconciliation, and the life of Herbert Sulzbach.


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