Over time, music has been known to nourish and soothe the soul, but can it save your life? One man from South Florida says yes because music saved him while he was imprisoned in a concentration camp during the Holocaust.
Take Saul Dreier, 93, and, Reuwen “Ruby” Sosnowicz, 89, then add Ruby’s daughter, vocalist Chana Rose, other guest vocalists and musicians and together you get the Holocaust Survivor Band. A fascinating and unique outfit that tells the world through their Yiddish and Hebrew tunes that they conquered their enemies especially Hitler while also spreading a message of peace. The idea of the band came from Dreier. Dreier was born on April 29, 1925, in Krakow, Poland. He attended Heder, a public religious school attended by boys of a certain age. Although familiar with Yiddish, Saul spoke Polish predominantly. He learned a great deal more Yiddish during the war. When World War II broke out on Sept. 1, 1939, Saul was only 14 years old. Like thousands of Jews, Saul and his family found themselves imprisoned in the Krakow ghetto. He was forcibly sent to the nearby Plaszow concentration camp where he was forced to build barracks for incoming Jewish prisoners from all over Poland, and also to repair airplane radiators. He survived three concentration camps. In one of them, he realized he could lift the spirits of his fellow prisoners by creating music. “I figure how I can get a sound, so I took two spoons,” he explained as he starts singing the song Hava Nagila.
He was liberated in early May 1945 by the 11th Armoured Division of the U.S Army. At that time, Saul had gangrene in his hands which he incurred when he and other prisoners were struck by a bomb. The gangrene was treated right away. He was the sole survivor of his immediate family. Saul spent five years in a Displaced Persons Camp in Italy where he took musical lessons and learned to play the drums. Ultimately, Saul settled in the United States where he met and married his wife, Clara, also a Holocaust survivor. The two went on to have four children and six grandchildren together. Sadly, Clara passed away on February 16, 2016.
In the spring of 2014, Saul was inspired to start a musical band, which he named the “Holocaust Survivor Band”, feeling that this would help bring greater meaning and enjoyment to his later years. He is the founder of this fascinating band. His major source of inspiration was an article he read about “the death of Alice Herz-Sommer, a 110-year-old survivor and accomplished pianist who had survived a concentration camp by playing music”.
That year, Saul met another musically talented Holocaust survivor named Reuwen “Ruby” Sosnowicz, who played the keyboard, the accordion, and various other instruments. Ruby is a native of Warsaw, Poland, born into a large and musical family. During World War II, he was incarcerated with his family in the Warsaw ghetto from which he managed to flee. He escaped death by hiding in the barn of a sympathetic Polish farmer, who would bring him food whenever he went to feed the horses. After being liberated, he was placed in a Displaced Persons Camp in Germany, migrated to Israel, joined the army, and performed for the “La kat tzavayeet”. He has performed in France, Canada, and in New York at Studio 54. He has also performed with Alan King, Carol Channing, and Shoshanna Aron, and few others. He is an archivist and historian of Jewish music and is the musical director/arranger of the band.
At the time they met, Saul was 89 and Ruby was 85. Saul convinced the former hairdresser, photographer, and professional musician to join him in his new venture and they have been performing together ever since. They never knew each other during the war, but they have become instant brothers forming a new family. The idea came at a good time, according to Sosnowicz’s daughter, Chana Rose, who had moved back in with her parents to help them out. Sadly, Sosnowicz also lost his wife in 2016. Rose was born in Montreal, Quebec and grew up listening to all the stories and beautiful Jewish music and was compelled to be a part of this fascinating band. She later went on to become the band manager and a fellow musician, doing backing vocals and percussion for the band. They mainly perform Yiddish and Hebrew songs, Klemzer music, and traditional Jewish songs from Eastern Europe.
They have performed in Cleveland, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Michigan, Warsaw, Israel and even played at a private concert outside the gates at Auschwitz, one of World War II’s most notorious Nazi concentration camps where Saul blew the Shofar. They have also performed in nursing homes, synagogues, and a couple of other places. A memorable show was when they played for a gathering of survivors at a hotel in Las Vegas owned by Sheldon Adelson. The band has been featured in the articles of several publications and on various media sites, including the Huffington Post, JP newsroom, the New York Times, Tablet Magazine, CBC Radio, and YouTube. On occasion, they have even been accompanied by the likes of world-renowned Yiddish singers, such as Dudu Fisher and Lipa Schmeltzer.
Nowadays, the band plays mostly around South Florida. Saul and Ruby receive hundreds of calls to play at events. Their mission is to demonstrate what survival means and to send the message to the world that we are all children of a loving God. They have a life-affirming spirit. “Music makes you alive. Even during the war, we played music. We did not have much to eat but we enjoyed music,” Sosnowicz said. Music heals the soul. Saul and Ruby are trying to impact many people in the world to understand that they must push the lessons of the past into the understanding of now. They have done more than survive. They have transformed themselves into messengers of peace, music, and love.