B’nai B’rith Spotlights Preeminent Conductor’s Stand Against Fascism at U.N. Holocaust Remembrance Program
B’nai B’rith International held its annual Holocaust remembrance program at United Nations headquarters in New York City with hundreds of people in attendance and U.N. Under-Secretary-General Cristina Gallach giving remarks. The program spotlighted preeminent Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini, who publicly took a hard-line stance against the oppression and racism of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini and supported the establishment of the orchestra now known as the Israel Philharmonic in solidarity with Jewish musicians escaping Nazi persecution. Those in the audience included diplomats, members of civil society, B’nai B’rith partners from the Italian-American and other communities, and Holocaust survivors.
B’nai B’rith’s program was held in cooperation with the Permanent Mission of Italy to the United Nations and the world body’s Holocaust and the United Nations Outreach Programme. Gallach and Kimberly Mann, chief of the Education Outreach Section of the U.N.’s Department of Public Information, thanked B’nai B’rith for its partnership over the course of a decade since the United Nations began its official Holocaust commemorations.
Executive Director Natalia Indrimi of the Centro Primo Levi, a New York-based organization inspired by the humanistic legacy of Italian Jewish writer and chemist Primo Levi, who survived Auschwitz, gave a candid and thorough overview of the situation of Italian Jews during the fascist period, and the intensifying persecution of them. She called Toscanini “one of the few Italian public figures who spoke up” against fascism.
Cesare Civetta, music director of the Beethoven Festival Orchestra and author of “The Real Toscanini: Musicians Reveal the Maestro,” spoke on the panel, detailing Toscanini’s story of bravery.
Civetta described how—despite a personal appeal from Hitler—Toscanini came to refuse appearance in Nazi Germany and later Austria, and vocally condemned the Nazis’ banning of Jewish artists. The conductor also deplored Mussolini’s fascism in Italy, and for this he was physically attacked, harassed, and had his passport repeatedly confiscated. Toscanini highlighted the work of Jewish composers and helped to feature Italian-Jewish musicians. And he was, from the outset, a great foreign champion of the group of Jewish refugee musicians that would become the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. He toured pre-state Israel with the ensemble upon its founding, deeply impacting audiences there, and found Israel’s blossoming to be a miracle.
B’nai B’rith International President Allan J. Jacobs, who invoked the observance this month of both Holocaust Remembrance Day and Israel Independence Day, noted the marking this year of “the 70th anniversary of the defeat of Nazism… as well as that of the founding of the United Nations.” At the same time, he emphasized that “we meet at a moment when hatred and violence persist—including an anti-Semitism that is again resurgent, only now in the context of a globalized world of porous borders as well as proliferating technology of the most lethal kind.” He concluded with a reminder of the need for “integrity in the face of bigotry.”
B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin, pointing to the rebirth of B’nai B’rith and Jewish communal life in countries where these had at one time been extinguished, added: “To stand up for principle, for our common humanity, one need not be a soldier or a statesman. Rather, it is upon each of us— every single man and woman—to find ourselves on, and move our societies toward, the right side of justice, the right side of history.”