This is the music that the Nazis thought they destroyed in 1938, when Brown Shirts smashed into Semer Record owner Hirsch Lewin's Hebrew Bookstore in Berlin and crushed some 4,500 discs and 250 metal plates. Semer Records, founded in 1932, had produced recordings of Jewish music and song covering the entire range from Yiddish songs and cabaret to cantorial tunes, folk songs, opera, and pop ballads.The cultural trove vanished with Holocaust. Lewin, sent to a concentration camp, was allowed later, before Eichmann's Final Solution took effect, to leave Germany. Fast forward to Berlin today. Jews have returned to the city mainly from East Europe and Russia but also from the New World, and Jewish culture has awakened. But what of the old music? In a global effort to track down old records, Rainer E. Lotz managed to accumulate most of the Semer catalogue, and in 2012 the Berlin Jewish Museum commissioned an ensemble to perform these diverse old works.
This particular recording is a live 2015 concert at Gorki Theatre in Berlin. The eight-member group includes Alan Bern, piano and accordion; Paul Brody, trumpet and vocals; Daniel Kahn, ukulele and vocals; Mark Kovnatskiy, violin and vocals; Martin Lillich, bassello [bass-stringed cello] and vocals; Sasha Lurje, vocals; Fabin Schnedler vocals and electric guitar; Lorin Sklamberg vocals and accordion. Even with new arrangements, the tone and spirit of the original recordings are conveyed. The music is a broad sampling from sentimental to comical, from religious to political. The sound quality is excellent.
This album demonstrates the importance of world distribution of recordings and specialist collectors. The banning of certain music still occurs by ultra-orthodox and radical religions and war has put some traditional music in jeopardy. The internet and commercial and institutional archives help protect against such future losses at the local level.