Egon Ledeč was born in Kostelec nad Orlicí (Bohemia) on 16 March 1889.  In 1900 he began his studies in violin at the Prague Conservatory.  At the age of nineteen he performed the Sibelius Violin Concerto with the Czech Philharmonic and joined the orchestra later that year.  In addition to playing in the Czech Philharmonic, he also performed in chamber ensembles and studied at the Master School of the Prague Conservatory with professors Otakar Sevčík and Karel Hoffmann.  After a stint in the Czech army during World War I, Ledeč rejoined the Czech Philharmonic, and in 1927 he was appointed second concertmaster.  He participated in concert tours to London, Paris, Switzerland, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Italy, Ireland, Belgium and many other locations.

In addition to playing in the Czech Philharmonic, Ledeč performed as a soloist and chamber musician.  He also composed semi-classical pieces, waltzes, marches and small compositions for violin and piano.  The works for violin and piano are written in the salon style, and are reminiscent of Fritz Kreisler.  Among these works are Tatínkova melodie, Kytička, Serenade and Uklobevka.  His musical monologue, Svítaní (Dawn), for symphony orchestra, was composed after 1935.  It is set to the words of Frána Šrámek’s Eternal Soldier.

Terezin concert poster. Ledec Quartet Hat Sich Das Aller Musikfreunde Erobert (The Ledec Quartet has conquered the hearts of all friends of music). Note: On three of the music stands, left to right, Smetana, Mozart and Dvorak. Courtesy of Pamatnik Terezin.

With the Nazi invasion on 15 March 1939 and subsequent decree that Jews be removed from their jobs, Ledeč lost his position as second concertmaster of the Czech Philharmonic.  While on tour with the Czech Philharmonic just prior to this, he wrote to the wife of the head of a grammar school in Hradec Králové:

I wanted to warn you ahead of time.  I will be sitting in the last row/seat {counter} of the first violins* (*so that you would not be taken by surprise), but I believe that this is only a temporary situation and it will be resolved soon, for I have already done something to change this, I will explain more at a later time.

On 27 October 1941, less than two months before Ledeč’s transport to Terezín, he wrote to his sister Olga about his upcoming marriage to Anna Friedmannová, with anxiety about the future:

Of course, since February much has happened and neither you nor I have the time to put it all down in a letter.  We’re getting married on Saturday, but you of course know that from my letters.  Hopefully we won’t be registered [called to a transport] by then and we will be able to go ahead with the ceremony.

On 23 November 1941 he wrote to Olga:

Thank you for your kind words in regard to my violin, I just hope I’ll be able to take it with me.  We have been called to appear at city hall tomorrow and so we’ll most likely have to get ready for a swift departure.  Possibly to Terezín!  Either there or to Poland, though no one talks about Poland these days.  I hope to find friends from Prague there.  Friends who might have left already.  My father used to say 'Geld verloren, nichts verloren; Kopf verloren, alles verloren.' [to lose money is to lose nothing, to lose your head is to lose everything] …Yours devoted and loving you -- your brother Egon.

Ledeč was on transport L-178 from Prague to Terezín on 10 December 1941.  Upon his arrival in Terezín he joined the early, clandestine musical activities, and 'By Christmas of the same year (1941), Egon Ledeč was able to comfort his brothers’ misery with the soothing sounds of his violin.' According to Joža Karas, Ledeč was the first musician invited by the Council of Elders to their living quarters to perform in musical soirées.  Ledeč, Dr Ilona Král, violist Viktor Kohn and Dr Klapp formed the first string quartet at Terezín, the 'Doctors’ Quartet'.  These musicians had already played together in Prague, where they would often sight read music for invited guests.  At Terezín, the quartet met weekly to play Haydn, Beethoven and Dvořak quartets.

Ledeč soon formed the Ledeč Quartet, with himself as first violinist, an amateur named Schneider as second violinist, Viktor Kohn as violist, and his brother Paul Kohn as the cellist.  Once Julius Stwertka of the Rosé Quartet arrived from Vienna, he replaced Schneider in the quartet.  The Ledeč Quartet performed at the Magdeburg Barrack.  With the establishment of the Freizeitgestaltung (Leisure Time Committee) during the autumn of 1942 and the sanctioning of musical activities by the Nazis, the quartet began to perform for different audiences.   

In the summer of 1944, Ledeč created a new quartet with Adolf Kraus as the second violinist, Viktor Kohn as the violist and Robert Dauber as the cellist.  At their first concert they played a string quartet by Haydn and Zikmund Schul’s Divertimento Ebraico

Finally let us have a thought for the new Ledeč quartet, who gave us a fine Haydn that was entrancing, beautiful, and excellently played, which was followed by Zikmund Schul's interesting and well-crafted Divertimento Ebraico (already known to us).  And finally they gave us Borodin's energetic, but not always of full value, quartet, which sometimes reminds us more of the boulevard than of the steppe.  The new quartet plays in a cultivated and precise manner with beautiful tone.  Our chamber music has gained unconditionally.

In addition to chamber music, Ledeč frequently performed as a soloist.  Several of these occasions were in the courtyard with accordion accompaniment.  Paul Kling, a violinist at Terezín, remembers these well.  He said of Ledeč:

…I used to go when he and an accordion player would play in the courtyards, or whatever you would call the common area in the barracks ... with Lederer.  He would play in the courtyards.  And I would go and listen to him.

It was a tragic situation.  The man who had stood in the spotlight for decades now went into the back courtyards in order to give little concerts with the accordionist Wolfi Lederer.  A grandseigneur from Prague was playing popular music!

On 5 July 1943, Alice Herz-Sommer arrived in Terezín on the last transport from Prague.  At Terezín, she played Beethoven’s Violin Sonatas with Ledeč.  These performances were described by Ullmann:

Ledeč and Alice Herz-Sommer played three of the most beautiful Beethoven violin sonatas ... Egon Ledeč is more than an excellent 'Bohemian musician' who is completely grown together with his instrument.  He is an artist who fashions consciously and with excellent feeling for style, who also knows about the secrets of the violin, about phrasing, about strokes and bowing, playing on the fingerboard, etc.  His beautiful tone is now purified of all dross, his intense performance style and his musician's instinct is praiseworthy.

In the Nazi propaganda movie, Theresienstadt:  A Documentary from the Jewish Settlement, Ledeč is filmed as concertmaster in Karel Ančerl’s orchestra. 

Egon Ledeč was transported to Auschwitz on 16 October 1944.  His name is on the same transport list as those of Gideon Klein, Viktor Ullmann, Rafael Schächter and Franz Eugen Klein.  Upon arrival in Auschwitz, Ledeč, Klein, Ullmann and Schächter were immediately sent to the gas chambers.

Sources

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

Paul Kling, interview by author, 2 September 2002, Vancouver, Canada.

Paul Kling, interview by David Bloch, 12 October 1989, Victoria, British Columbia.

Egon Ledeč, to Jitka Beranová, 19 May 1938, transcript at the Jewish Museum, Holocaust Archive, Prague, transl. Victoria Monjo and Kateřina Knappová.

Egon Ledeč, to Olga (Olinka) Šarfeubergerová, 27 October 1941, transcript at the Jewish Museum, Holocaust Archive, Prague, transl. Victoria Monjo.

Egon Ledeč, to Olga Šarfeubergerová, 23 November 1941, transcript at the Jewish Museum, Holocaust Archive, Prague, transl. Victoria Monjo.  

Egon Ledeč, “Curriculum Vitae, 1942, transcript at the Jewish Museum, Holocaust Archive, Prague, transl. Victoria Monjo. 

Jan Ledeč, “Egon Ledeč,” transl. Mr Hattersley, from Silenced Tones: The Life and Work of the Czech Jewish Composers Gideon Klein and Egon Ledeč Exhibition (Prague: Jewish Museum, 2003).

Viktor Ullmann, 26 Kritiken Über Musikalische Veranstaltungen In Theresienstadt.  Edited by Ingo Schultz.  Hamburg: von Bockel, 1993.  Transl. Timothy McFarland.