A professional Czech violinist and graduate of the Prague Conservatory,  BohumÍr Červinka was a popular musician in Sachsenhausen.  He was imprisoned in the late 1930s and was musically active in the camp from his arrival.  Along with the singer Jan Vala, he was one of the few older members of the Czech chorus in the camp.  This was an elite choir made up mainly of serious musicians and music students arrested after the November Action of 1939, organised and directed by Frantisek Marusan.

During his first years at Sachsenhausen, Červinka managed to acquire a second-rate violin, and would go from barracks to barracks playing for his fellow prisoners.  Impressed by the popular reception his music had amongst the inmates, he decided to try to organise a string quartet.  At the time, there were many musicians and artists in the camp, due to the November 1939 deportation of 1,200 Czech students to Sachsenhausen.  The quartet was established with Červinka on first violin, Karel Stancl on second violin, the Czech student Jan Skorpik on the viola, and the German communist Eberhard Schmidt on cello.  The musicians played works by Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert, Mozart, Brahms and Dvořák.

During the early years of its existence the quartet was illegal, and was forced to practise secretly to avoid SS notice.  After a while, however, the guards granted it permission to be an official musical group.  This improvement in status, above all, gave the musicians access to a preferable practice area.  Stancl remembered vividly the quartet’s first public concert, held during Easter 1941:

Since the room was small and the interest in our show was huge, future concerts were to be held in the hall of the camp bath.  The     German comrades employed in the bathroom decorated it very tastefully ...  they built a podium out of tables, put up a few rows of chairs, and did not forget the flowers.  At that show we were a huge success, especially when we played Dvořák’s American quartet.  I also played a few solo violin pieces … We always had great acclaim, the hall was always over-full, and the many listeners who had no seat gathered around the hall. 

The four men also occasionally participated in mixed evenings of entertainment, alternating with recitations of poetry or the performance of short theatre pieces.  For almost three years the quartet continued to entertain fellow prisoners, until the deportation of Jan Skorpik in 1943. 

Sources

Gilbert, S., 2005. Music in the Holocaust: Confronting Life in the Nazi Ghettos and Camps, Oxford: Oxford University Press.  

Kuna, M., 1993. Musik an der Grenze des Lebens: Musikerinnen und Musiker aus Böhmischen Ländern in Nationalsozialistischen Konzentrationslagern und Gefängnissen, Frankfurt/M.: Zweitausendeins.  

Lammel, I., 1995. Das Sachsenhausen-Liederbuch. In G. Morsch, ed. Sachsenhausen-Liederbuch: Originalwiedergabe eines illegalen Häftlingsliederbuches aus dem Konzentrationslager Sachsenhausen. Berlin: Hentrich, pp. 14-31.