Edith Kraus (1913-2013)

Czech-Jewish pianist Edith Kraus was one of the last of the musicians who performed in Theresienstadt. After surviving the Holocaust, she dedicated her life to performing works composed in the Czech ghetto and lecturing on the importance of music and culture during the Holocaust.

Though she was born in Vienna on 16 May 1913, Edith Kraus grew up in Carlsbad (Karlovy Vary) in Czechoslovakia. Kraus showed musical talent at a young age and began to learn the piano; she debuted as a child prodigy at the age of eleven, playing Mozart’s Piano Concerto in C minor. Alma Mahler, widow of the composer Gustav, recommended her for the Berlin Höchschule fur Musik, where she studied with Artur Schnabel. After completing her studies in Berlin, Kraus settled in Prague and worked as a concert pianist and teacher, marrying Karl Steiner in 1933. She gave the premiere of Walter Kaufmann’s ‘Indian’ Piano Concerto in January 1937.

After the Germans invaded Czechoslovakia in March 1939, Jews were forbidden from attending schools, having jobs, and going to the theatre, among many other things. Edith and her husband had to move into a small flat, sharing with other Jewish families, before they were eventually deported to Theresienstadt in June 1942. Kraus had access to a piano in the ghetto, and she soon became involved Theresienstadt’s cultural life. She played over 300 concerts as a soloist and chamber musician, performing music by Bach, Mozart, Brahms, Chopin, Smetana, Suk and Ravel. She performed the premier of Viktor Ullmann’s Piano Sonata No. 6, and played in a well-received piano duet arrangement of Bizet’s Carmen with Franz Eugen Klein. Many of her performances appear on programmes and posters preserved from the ghetto.

In autumn 1944 almost all of the inmates in Theresienstadt, including Kraus’s husband and composers Viktor Ullmann, Pavel Haas, Gideon Klein and Hans Krása, were deported to Auschwitz. Kraus was unexpectedly saved from the transportation, though she never knew by whom. After the camp was liberated on 8 May 1945 she returned to Prague with her friend, the pianist Alice Herz-Sommer, with whom she had played before the war. Kraus was the only surviving member of her family.

Edith Kraus remarried and had a baby, and the family moved to Israel in 1949. She became an advocate for the music that had been created in Theresienstadt, and spent the rest of her life raising awareness through performances and lectures, particularly through the performance of works by Ullmann and Haas. She performed in Israel, Denmark, Czechoslovakia, UK and the USA. Her recordings include Ullmann’s Piano Sonatas (EDA, 1993) and an album of Czech piano music, Life of Dreams (Koch, 1993). She was reunited with Alice Herz-Sommer in the 1990s. She appeared in numerous documentaries about her time in Theresienstadt, including They Never Touched My Bread (BBC, 1986), Music of Terezín (BBC, 1993) and In Silence (Furia Film, 2014). Edith Kraus died on 3 September 2013 at 100 years of age.

By Abaigh McKee


Adapted from Agata Schindler, A Tiny Teardrop: The Devastating Impact of Nazism on the Lives of Musicians in Central Europe (1933-1945) (Bratislava: Hobodné Centrum, 2016) by Abaigh McKee.