Paul Kling

Paul Kling had already learned fifty-two violin concertos by the time the Nazis invaded his home in Brno, Moravia.  By age seven he had performed Mozart’s A Major Violin Concerto and Bach’s A Minor Violin Concerto with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra.  In 1941, several months before the thirteen-year-old Kling was to receive the equivalent of a Bachelor's degree, he was expelled from school for being an 'undesirable element'.

By the time Paul Kling arrived in Terezín on 9 April 1943 at the age of fifteen, the camp’s musical activities were in full swing.  Hidden in the bed sheets he had brought with him was his mute violin.  He felt fortunate that it had not been confiscated upon arrival.  He did not bring any scores with him since, as he said in an interview in 2002, 'I had everything memorised.  And I wasn’t thinking of, you know, staying there for a long vacation.'  Upon arrival he was assigned to do outdoor manual labour.  He remembers only that it was purposeless work and not good for his hands.  Having already experienced the Czech version of the Nuremberg laws for several years, the restrictions of Terezín did not come as much of a shock.

Soon after his arrival, Kling was moved to a building that housed only young people.  This policy of the Council of Elders was intended to help the young  people survive.  At Terezín, the Jugendfürsorge (Youth Care Department) was established for this purpose.  Karel Reiner, a composer assigned to the Youth Care Department, learned that Kling was a violinist and arranged for Kling to get involved in the camp’s musical activities through the Freizeitgestaltung (Leisure Time Committee).

The SS established the Freizeitgestaltung during the autumn of 1942.  It acted as a cultural department that developed programmes, provided instruments for musicians, scheduled concerts, recitals, cabarets, poetry readings and even arranged practice sites and times for the performers. These cultural activities were permitted, but carefully supervised by Dr Friedrich Seidl, the SS commander of Terezín.  At its peak, the Freizeitgestaltung had 276 members, a small minority of the total population of the camp.  Charlotte Opfermann, author of The Art of Darkness, was sceptical of the freedom given to the Jews by the Freizeitgestaltung, describing it as a mirage supposedly run by and for prisoners.  Yet, the establishment of the Freizeitgestaltung clearly allowed cultural life to continue and to receive a platform.

To become members of the Freizeitgestaltung, prisoners were required to submit an application.  If accepted, they became eligible for special housing, additional food rations and less arduous labour.  Kling’s experience at Terezín prior to joining the Freizeitgestaltung was typical for prisoners of the camp.  However, once he was fortunate enough to be selected to the Freizeitgestaltung  he was able to spend his days practising, rehearsing and performing in different ensembles.  He was among the few prisoners given the privilege of pursuing their artistic talent full-time with no other work demanded of them. 

Before he came to the camp, Kling’s repertoire had been limited to showpieces, violin concertos and a few solo Bach works including the Chaconne, the Fugue in G Minor and the Prelude in E Major.  His sonata repertoire was limited to the Beethoven Sonata for Piano and Violin in A Major ('Kreutzer') and the Brahms Sonata for Violin and Piano in G Major.  At Terezín, Kling split his time between practising on his own and rehearsing with chamber ensembles and orchestras.  He began to perform in the entertainment orchestra that played in the coffee house as well as the string orchestra, the opera orchestra and several chamber ensembles. When later on he was asked why he continue to practise in such an environment he responded, 'I was practising for an unknown future… I was practising to get better.'

Kling developed a special relationship with and admiration for pianist Gideon Klein.  Klein was tall, handsome and 'slightly demonic', according to Kling, who speaks of him as 'a fascinating figure and wonderful to work with – a Czech Bernstein.  He had the gift of explaining things'.  Kling was honoured to have been invited to play in a piano trio with Klein and Freidrich Mark, a talented cellist.  Kling had little chamber music experience, but Klein was committed to encouraging the growth of young musicians.  Together they played the Brahms B Major opus 8 and Beethoven’s E Flat Major, opus 70 no 2 piano trios.  'Still those trios are for me the highlight,' says Kling. 'I still love to play the B Major Brahms.'   Viktor Ullmann, a composer and music critic at Terezín, reviewed the performance of the two piano trios, saying

The performance is noteworthy for its excellent preparation, done by Gideon Klein, who himself mastered the difficult piano part with élan and reliable feeling for the style.  Paul Kling made his debut on the violin with a lot of success, and he is on the way up and very talented, Freidrich Mark has already proven himself often as a splendid chamber music player.

Kling was also a member of the Stadtkapelle (town orchestra), conducted by Peter Deutsch, former conductor of the Royal Orchestra in Copenhagen.  Kling remembers playing 'entertainment music' with this orchestra in the gazebo of the main square.  This concert was filmed and incorporated by the Germans into their propaganda film, Theresienstadt - ein Dokumentarfilm aus dem judische Siedlungsgebiet (Theresienstadt – a documentary from the Jewish settlement).  Kling played a medley of Dvorak tunes arranged for orchestra, including an excerpt from the Quintet in A Major and other 'salon' music.  This orchestra was specifically set up as part of the beautification of the camp in preparation for the Red Cross visit.  'I remember, like today, that I felt it was beneath my dignity to have to play in such a thing.'

Kling was the violinist chosen to play in Viktor Ullmann’s opera, The Kaiser from Atlantis.  He was chosen, by his own reckoning, because he 'was in demand'.  Perhaps other violinists did not think it was virtuosic enough, or perhaps they wanted to 'let Kling suffer with that piece', he said on reflection.  The opera was never performed at Terezín and turned out to be Kling’s last ensemble work before being sent to Auschwitz on 28 September 1944.  

There is a popular notion that composers wrote music as a form of resistance against the Nazis.  Kling does not feel that resistance was on the mind of any of the composers at Terezín.  He admits that his youth may have made him too naïve to recognise this at the time, but even looking back, he does not believe this was the purpose behind the compositions. 

David Bloch, a musicologist at Tel Aviv University who specialises in music from Terezín, asked Kling how he continued to rehearse and perform amidst the depraved conditions, the hunger and the threat of the transports to the East.  Kling said that he preferred not to discuss the history and politics of the period.  He would rather remember Terezín as a stage in his development as a violinist. 'Of course I was self-centered as anybody would be, professionally speaking, so all that mattered to me was that I could practise.  And I would practise in basements, and I had friends who made sure I had a place to practise.'

Furthermore, Kling says,

I think that especially in the moment when you don’t really know what the future is, you do the best to satisfy yourself or whatever you know… I was of course very young and optimistic so I would have, I think, fallen into the category of people who assumed there was a life after Terezín. 

He continues by explaining that

There was no happiness.  It was survival, as you know.  Culture is very often a survival mechanism for nations, as it is for smaller groups… Because, after all, everybody felt that there is perhaps more chance in surviving if you are unified at least in spirit if not in anything else…  

In another interview he elaborates: 'People had to sustain a civilised life under the conditions and needed something other than language.  Culture was needed.'

Paul Kling was among the lucky few to survive the Holocaust.  Once he returned to Prague after the war, he entered the Music Academy of Prague and practiced 'like mad'.  In 1947, at the age of nineteen, he was asked, at the last minute, to substitute for the soloist with the Prague Symphony Orchestra in the Brahms Concerto in D Major.  This highly successful performance took his career to a new level.  He was soon invited to become the concertmaster of the NHK Symphony in Tokyo and later concertmaster of the Louisville Symphony.  In 1977 he became a professor and eventually Dean of Music at the University of Victoria.  Over the years he soloed with many orchestras in the United States and abroad, receiving rave reviews.  A concert performed in 1961 at Town Hall in New York City is described in New York Herald Tribune:

Beauty of tone, elegance of phrasing, and complete directness marked the recital by violinist Paul Kling at Town Hall.  Mr Kling played Brahms with a distinct regard for its highly romantic character, without, however, the slightest suggestion of banality.  It had an easy, flowing quality about it that attested to the violinist’s affinity for savoring a melodic line while never losing sight of the various technical demands necessary to hold everything in place.  Much the same can be said for Beethoven’s 'Kreutzer' Sonata, except that the work is far more exacting in its emotional content.  But Mr Kling was equal to all its needs, playing it with a sure hand for detail and the kind of insight that made one continually sit up and listen.  A beautiful performance!

In 1998, the President of the Republic of Austria awarded Kling the Austrian Cross of Honour for Arts and Letters.  Prior to his retirement, Kling taught at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada.  Paul Kling died while resting in 2005.  He is survived by his wife of five decades, Taka Kling, and their daughter Karen Kling.

Kling’s own understanding of his life understates his talent, but emphasises, perhaps rightly, the role of good fortune in the career of any performer:

I was lucky with everything, let’s face it.  With all my unluck, I was lucky [in Terezín].  I was lucky in Auschwitz.  I was lucky with my career after the war when I was pinch-hitting for an absent soloist in the Brahms Concerto at 36 hours notice and didn’t have time to get nervous and got rave reviews.  Lucky.  Lucky to get a Guarneri violin, lucky to get jobs I never really asked for.  You know I went to Vienna, when I left Czechoslovakia, actually stupidly, I didn’t even think of that the whole world isn’t waiting for Kling to come and play the Paganini concerto.


By Aleeza Wadler


Paul Kling, interview by author, 2 September 2002, Vancouver, Canada, mini-disk recording, in author’s possession.

Paul Kling, interview by David Bloch, 12 October 1989, Victoria, British Columbia, in the possession of the interviewer.

Elena Makarova, Serei Makarov and Victor Kuperman, University Over The Abyss.

Charlotte Opfermann, The Art of Darkness (Houston:  University Trace Press, 2002),

Joža Karas, Music in Terezín 1941-1945 (New York: Beaufort Book Publishers, in association with Pendragon  Press, 1985

Review of Paul Kling Recital, by Judith Robinson (Town Hall, New York), New York Herald Tribune, 1 January 1961, 6.