A composer of musical theatre, Henech Kon was an important member of the thriving inter-war Polish-Jewish cultural scene. He wrote popular songs, and participated in a wide variety of cultural activities for Jewish and non-Jewish Poles. Ironically, as antisemitism began to increase in the 1930s, Jewish musical activity thrived, as entertainers began to lose their jobs elsewhere and were only able to find employment within the Jewish community.
Kon was born in 1890 in Łódź, and as a boy of 12 was sent to live with his grandfather. He received a traditional Jewish education, and was also exposed to klezmer music, which influenced him to become a musician. Although his parents originally dreamed of his becoming a rabbi, they eventually agreed to support their son’s musical aspirations. As a teenager he moved to Berlin, where he studied for several years at the Academy of Music. In 1912 he returned to Poland, where he became involved in the Warsaw literary world. He developed a friendship with the Yiddish writer I. L. Peretz, and later composed music to Peretz’ poems. He was also drawn to the theatre, and began to work with Moshe Broderson, developing many of the small theatres of inter-war Poland. With the assistance of Yitschok Broyner, the two men created theatres including the 1922 Chad Gadya marionette theatre in Łódź, the 1925 Azazel theatre in Warsaw, the Sambatyon theatre in 1926 and the Ararat theatre in 1927. Kon continued to compose, specialising in music for the theatre.
Kon left Poland before the war and moved to New York, where he was one of many Yiddish-speaking immigrant writers and artists who had fled Nazism. He continued to write and compose, and after the war committed his artistic production to commemorating the destruction of Polish Jewry. Among other projects, he arranged songs of the Holocaust for voice and piano. He travelled extensively, to Europe and later to Israel. Kon died in New York in 1972.
Fater, Y., 1970. Yidishe muzik in poyln tsvishn beyde velt-milkohmes, Tel Aviv: Velt federatsye fun poylishe yidn.
Katsherginski, S. & Leivick, H. eds., Lider fun di Getos un Lagern, New York: Alveltlekher Yidisher Kultur-Kongres.
Kon, H. ed., Thirty Songs of the Ghetto, New York: Congress for Jewish Culture.
Kon, H. ed., Twenty Songs of the Ghettos, New York: Congress for Jewish Culture.