Siblings David, Toni and Rosi Grunschlag were musical prodigies who escaped Nazi persecution in Austria in the 1930s with the help of violinist Bronisław Huberman. David made a successful career as a violinist in the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, while the sisters settled in America and became a celebrated piano duo.

All three children showed musical talent from a young age; David as a violinist and his younger sisters on the piano. They attended the Akademie für Musik und Darstellende Kunst in Vienna. At the age of 13, David was taken under the wing of the celebrated violinist Huberman, who paid for his lessons at the Hochshule für Musik in Berlin. David tried to tour as a soloist in Germany, but performance opportunities for Jewish musicians were hard to come by due to growing antisemitism.

In 1935 David was given a place in a new orchestra based in Palestine. Created by Huberman, the orchestra offered talented Jewish musicians the opportunity to start a new life, away from the dangers of growing Nazi persecution. Huberman obtained permanent residence certificates for members of the orchestra and their families, and though David’s father and mother were offered residence, his sisters did not qualify. Toni and Rosi stayed in Vienna, continuing their lessons at the Akademie.

After the Anschluss in 1938 the sisters tried to keep a low profile, practising the piano from home and only attending the Akademie for Toni to obtain her diploma, which was stamped with a Nazi swastika. The sisters desperately tried to obtain visas and exit passes to leave Austria, but eventually it was Huberman who helped the family again. Toni and Rosi boarded a train to the Netherlands in April 1939, negotiated a guard who believed them to be smuggling secret messages in their suitcase of musical scores.

The girls first travelled to England, staying with the Bagenal family in Hertfordshire before arranging to meet their parents in America. They arrived in New York in October 1939 and made a living playing the piano in local churches and Synagogues. The sisters soon found their ‘big break’: they played for the music critic Olin Downes, who suggested that they form a piano duo. The sisters debuted in March 1945 in New York, and subsequently played in prestigious venues across America and the United States. They enjoyed long careers as performers and teachers specialising in work written for four hands and performing a number of premieres.

David stayed in Palestine, performing in the Palestine Symphony Orchestra (now the Israel Philharmonic) as leader and soloist; he played with the Philadelphia Orchestra from 1959 until his retirement in 1984. Toni and Rosi were invited back to Vienna in 2006 to play in a concert commemorating the Holocaust. This was the sisters’ final performance together, as Toni died in 2007. Rosi continued to give recitals as a soloist before she passed away in 2012.

David’s daughter, Dorit Straus, organised a concert in Vienna in 2009 to celebrate both Huberman and her father. The concert was given by violinist Joshua Bell, who plays Huberman’s violin (which was stolen in 1936), the ‘Gibson ex-Huberman’ Stradivarius.


Sources

Aronson, J. and George, D. (2016) Orchestra of Exiles (New York: Berkley Books)

Groth, L. (2013) (ed.) It Runs in the Family (Ya Ya Ya…Vater Productions in association with Thrice Cooked Chicken Films and Svee-Tart Productions)

Wyatt, W. and Murray, T. (2011) Toni and Rosi (Toni and Rosi Films Ltd.) First broadcast on BBC 4, 2011