Portrait of Jewish musician Michael Hofmekler playing the violin, circa 1930. USHMM (58546), courtesy of Robert W. Hofmekler.
Violinists perform in the Kovno ghetto orchestra
Portrait of two Jewish brothers on the day they found each other at the St. Ottilien displaced persons hospital camp in Bavaria. Pictured are survivor Michael Hofmekler (left) and U.S. serviceman Robert Hofmekler (right), June 1945. USHMM (58542), courtesty of Robert W. Hofmekler.
Violinists perform in the Kovno ghetto orchestra

One of the remarkable reunions to take place in the immediate aftermath of the war was that of the Jewish brothers Michael and Robert Hofmekler, in June 1945, at the Saint Ottilien Displaced Persons’ hospital camp in Bavaria.  Robert, having emigrated from his native Lithuania in 1938, was a US Serviceman who had been drafted in January 1941 and had served in Europe with the 9th Infantry and 10th Armoured Division.  Michael, his elder brother, had spent the war years with their parents and sister in the Kovno ghetto.  There he had been a vital figure in the ghetto musical world, not only as a violinist, but also as the conductor of the ghetto orchestra.  Michael and eight other members of the Kovno orchestra survived the war, and these men performed at one of the first post-war Displaced Persons’ camp performances.  It was also in this camp that the sole surviving members of the Hofmekler family saw each other for the first time in seven years.

The Hofmekler family was originally from the Lithuanian city of Vilna, and had a strong musical tradition.  The parents, Motel and Bertha, were quite musical, the father a respected cellist.  They had four children, three boys and a girl.  In the autumn of 1920, the family resettled in Kovno, where Michael continued his musical education.  He was particularly attracted to the musical traditions of his homeland, and in 1932 was decorated by the Lithuanian president for his commitment to Lithuanian folk music. After the Soviet occupation in 1940, he became music director and conductor of the National Radio Orchestra in Vilna.  By then, Robert had already decided to try his luck in the United States.

The German invasion in the summer of 1941 was to destroy the family.  In Vilna, Leo and his wife and children were driven into the ghetto, where they were all to die.  Michael, his sister, and their parents, at the time still in Kovno, were forced into the ghetto there.  By the time the ghetto was dissolved, only Michael and Robert were still alive.

While Robert was performing his tour of duty, Michael had been deported in April 1944 to Germany, through Stutthof to Dachau.  In late April 1945 he was evacuated and was ultimately liberated in the vicinity of Landsberg, Bavaria. He also became involved, along with other surviving Kovno Jews, in the efforts to organize Jewish survivors. A few weeks later the remarkable reunion at the St. Ottilien Displaced Persons' hospital camp occurred.

Sources

USHMM, E. ed., 1997. Hidden History of the Kovno Ghetto, Boston, New York, Toronto, London: Bulfinch Press.