It was disconcerting to suddenly come upon this ensemble in the upscale Mamilla Mall last week, as part of an otherwise upbeat Musical Instruments sculpture exhibition.
But it seems more appropriate today because Israel is right now observing Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The official name is Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Day and this year's theme is Hayachid vehayachad--My brother's keeper: Jewish solidarity in the Holocaust.
This sculpture's creator is Dr. Martin Kieselstein, who survived five Nazi concentration camps but lost his entire family.
He remembers the Jewish musicians who had to play music at the gate of Auschwitz as the forced laborers went out to work every day.
The artists says that the music gave hope to the prisoners, raised their spirits, and strengthened them.
From the viewpoint of the SS, however, "The orchestra’s primary task was to accompany prisoners marching to and from work, so that the marching rhythm would allow ease of control over the prisoners. "
So it says in a very interesting page about "the elaborate musical scene" at Auschwitz at holocaustmusic.ort.org.
The first prisoner orchestra began in 1941 and grew to a hundred--they were non-Jews, mainly Czechs, Soviet POWs, and Polish intelligentsia and resistance members.
The articles says "The orchestra had a high turnover rate. In addition to the generally high death rate in Auschwitz -- musicians were not freed from their daily labour assignments -- there was also a high suicide rate, due perhaps to the emotional pressure of the context. "
It was only in October 1944, when mass transports removed large numbers of non-Jews from the camps, that they were replaced by professional Jewish musicians.
"Some SS officers employed individual ‘musical slaves’, who were required to play or sing whenever commanded to. One such prisoner was the Italian tenor Emilio Jani, whose memoirs are titled My Voice Saved Me. Another was Coco Schumann, who recalled years later that
The music could save you: if not your life, then at least the day. The images that I saw every day were impossible to live with, and yet we held on. We played music to them, for our basic survival. We made music in hell."