This extract is taken from my mother’s unpublished autobiography ‘Leopards in the Air’. It refers to a time just before the war when my grandmother opened the doors of her house to shelter two Austrian Jews. A little back ground first. My grandparents lived in Highgate, London. My grandfather had his own estate agency, but his passion and that of the whole family was music. It dominated their lives. In the ‘lounge’ a Bechstein grand piano filled space. As well as being organist for Highgate Baptist Church , Grandpa had his own choir, the Alexander Choral Society, Grandma belonged to the Royal choral Society. My mother and her two sisters learnt to play piano and sing from an early age. Music filled their lives with concerts, and music making at home.
From Ruth Norrington’s autobiography ‘Leopards in the Air’
My mother had always been a most hospitable person, ……..it was this side of my mother’s character that brought us all into contact, at least three years before the war broke out, with the horrors of the Nazi regime and the appalling persecution of the Jews in the concentration camps. Reading of their plight in Vienna, my mother contacted the Red Cross to see if there were any refugees in London who would like to be adopted by a musical family, mentioning in particular the pleasure our Bechstein grand piano might give to an exile who was a pianist. They told us of Edith Vogel, already an established concert pianist in Vienna, who was doing domestic work in London, having escaped from Austria. Her father had committed suicide and her mother and brother were in concentration camps. She came one winter’s night, after her work of scrubbing floors, a small pathetic figure in a black woollen dress. She went over to the piano and sat down and knowing of her reputation as a great concert player, we expected to hear some pianistic fireworks. Instead, after a long pause, the quiet opening bars of Chopin’s third prelude came stealing across the room, almost inaudible; then another silence, followed by a storm of tears. On a fourteen year old, the impact of this first contact with adult human sorrow left an indelible mark. Edith came like a dark shadow across our complacent middle class, safe suburban lives, reminding us of the suffering and death of millions of her fellow Jews were having to endure under the Nazis.
She looked upon our home as hers and spent most of her time with us, spending hours practising on the Bechstein. We heard of the appalling conditions that her brother was suffering in Dachau and my other made up her mind that she would get him out if it was humanly possible. She heard through the Red Cross that the German government would consider letting a Jew out of the camp, if a home and job could be offered him in England. My mother offered the one and my father the other and after many months negotiating with the Austrian Embassy, he arrived in 1937. He was half starved, and his back was heavily scared with the marks of the daily beating with rubber truncheons, naked in the perishing winter, that he had been given by his Nazi hosts. The whereabouts of his mother was unknown, and it was assumed that she had died in the gas chamber of the camp to which she had been sent.
Gradually, as other friends and relations of the Vogels either escaped or were got out of their concentration camps by the same means as Marcel, our house became a great meeting place for about ten of them, all wonderfully musical. The music-making was of a high quality and to add to our already fairly wide knowledge of the great masterpieces, we now learnt the enchanting lieder of Schubert, Brahms and Schumann. Dr Rosenzweig, a great musicologist, who later married Edith Vogel, Adolf Platchek,who married Jan Struther, and his sister Suzi, who became a nurse at the Royal Free Hospital, were among their number.
Small private concerts were arranged at our house for Edith’s benefit and slowly she found her way back to the musical scene where she belonged, and where she is still a greatly admired concert player and teacher .(footnote- She died 1992) Marcel was a master tailor, and eventually, after his internment in the Isle of Man during the war, went back to his trade and make a great success of it. At my mother’s funeral in 1974 when she was 86, I spotted a familiar figure at the back of the church . It was Marcel Vogel. He had come to pay his last respects to the stranger who took him in, the woman to whom he owed his life.
Edith Vogel (April 5, 1912 in Czernowitz – June 12, 1992 in London) was an Austro-Hungarian-born classical pianist active in the UK. She made her debut in Vienna at the age of 10, and studied at the Vienna Academy. After settling in England she began to broadcast regularly for BBC radio, becoming particularly associated with the music of Beethoven and Schubert. Vogel was also a prominent teacher, participating in the Dartington Summer Schools and joining the piano faculty at the Guildhall School of Music. The BBC holds a considerable archive of her recordings, many of which have been made commercially available. She married Herbert Jeffrey
In a book intended to be published in July 1945, eighty-five years after Mahler’s birth, the Austrian émigré Alfred Mathis-Rosenzweig (1897–1948) conceived a promising two-volume study of the composer’s life and work, a project left unfinished at his death and preserved among the papers of his colleague the pianist Edith Vogel (1912–1992). Unfinished, unpublished and, at some point, presumed lost, Mathis-Rosenzweig’s study is now available in a critical English-language edition prepared by Jeremy Barham.
Comment on the story here.