The well-known conductor and pianist Teodor Ryder returned from a prestigious position at the opera house in Lyon to Warsaw in 1916. At the time, the young musician was at the peak of his career. After working for several years in Warsaw, he moved to Łódź, where he rapidly became a leading figure in the city’s rich cultural life. Not only an important conductor and accompanist, Ryder was a founder or organising member of many musical associations, clubs, and community organisations. This varied musical activity did not end with his forced deportation to the Łódź ghetto at the beginning of 1940. On the contrary, Ryder became a valued figure in the ghetto’s vibrant cultural world, and continued to perform and organise even after the death of his wife. He gave his final concert in the summer of 1943.
Teodor Henryk Ryder was born on 10 June 1881 in the small town of Piotrków near Lublin, Poland. His father was a lawyer, and his parents gave him piano lessons as a child. Although he was primarily a professional conductor, he remained a successful pianist throughout his life. Following the completion of his secondary education, he pursued his musical education abroad, with a lengthy stay in Darmstadt, Germany. Between 1904 and 1916, he worked as a conductor in Germany, Switzerland and France. His most illustrious position was that of second bandmaster at the Lyon opera house. It was probably also in Lyon that he met and fell in love with his future wife, the German singer Ida Voth, who converted to Judaism for their marriage.
Having established himself musically, in 1916 Ryder returned to his homeland, where he found a position as orchestra leader at the large opera house in Warsaw. After two years in Warsaw he went to Łódź, where he remained until his deportation. In 1919 he began to conduct the philharmonic orchestra there, and eventually attained leading positions in many musical associations and groups. He performed for the Polish radio, and for Polish, Jewish and German theatres. In addition, he was busy as a successful accompanist for soloists and singers, and as a music teacher at the academy.
The Ryders were forced into the Łódź ghetto in March 1940. Ryder was involved with the foundation of the House of Culture under the leadership of Jewish Council chairman Khayim Rumkowski. In the ghetto’s early months he performed regularly as a conductor and accompanist: the ghetto newspaper mentions four complete concerts of his over the next two years, featuring the music of Beethoven, Liszt, Mendelssohn, Puccini and Schubert. In celebration of the House of Culture’s success, Ryder and other leading musicians of the ghetto organised a ‘jubilee concert’ in the winter of 1941. A ghetto review in Polish gives an idea of the collective pride in these musical offerings, and their importance to the maintenance of morale:
In 1941 the House of Culture performed its one hundredth in a series of concerts. This jubilee concert took place on the last day of the year and was devoted to a violin recital by Bronislawa Rotsztatówna accompanied by maestro [Teodor] Ryder. The programme consisted of works by Bach, Glazunov and Mozart. Aside from the 100 concerts, the House of Culture, which was created on 1 March, has presented 85 revue performances ... there were two special shows for children ... The cost of a ticket ranges from 30 pfennig to 1 mark, while shows for factory workers cost from 20-30 pfennig.
Ryder performed often with Rotsztatówna, who had been a soloist in the Łódź symphony orchestra before the war, and one of the most successful musical events in the ghetto was their series of three Beethoven concerts. A rare surviving review in German of the evening, balancing antisemitism with sincere appreciation of great musical talent, reported that
Ryder led the evening with talent. The yellow Jew star on the right shoulder quivers with his body as he passionately sways along to the rhythm of the music. The public – the great majority are from Łódź – feel drawn to the music of Beethoven. The German classic is not foreign to them – on the contrary, it is well known. And there are a number of visitors who hum to themselves Beethoven themes from symphony and violin concerts on the journey home, as if they were popular Yiddish folk songs – psychologically speaking a noteworthy phenomenon, that can also be observed in other [non-musical] disciplines.
Ryder’s last documented concert was in June 1943, when he performed as a pianist in a mixed concert of instrumental music and song. In 1944, the Nazis expropriated all instruments in the ghetto: this marked both the end of cultural activity, and imminent liquidation. The ghetto was cleared by the end of the year; both Ryder and Rotsztatówna were deported to Auschwitz in the autumn of 1944. (Ryder’s wife Ida had died while still in the ghetto: despite her non-Jewish origins, she refused to divorce him and convert back to Christianity, though this would have allowed her to leave.) Rotsztatówna managed to survive the horrors of the camp, after liberation returning to Łódź to become the concert mistress of a new philharmonic orchestra. Ryder was probably killed with the other members of the Łódź ghetto in Birkenau.
Dobroszycki, L. ed., 1984. The Chronicle of the Lodz Ghetto, 1941-1944, New Haven: Yale 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.
Krickeberg, K. & Zeile, H., 2005. 'Über Teodor Ryder, Dirigent, in Auschwitz ermordet, und Ida Ryder geb. Voth, Sängerin, im Ghetto von Lódz verhungert’. musica reanimata - Mitteilungen, 57, 14-16.