As Sam Gubins of Havertown explained it, under the most grotesque, horrible conditions imaginable during the Holocaust, the human spirit found a way to create beauty. That beauty was in the thousands of pieces of music crafted and performed by Jews as they fought to survive.
Now Holocaust Music Lost & Found, a nonprofit created by Manhattan resident Janie Press, is on a mission to recover that music for posterity. And two local Jews, Gubins and Barry Abelson of Rittenhouse Square, not only believe in the mission but are part of it.
Gubins, the former president of a scientific publishing organization, is HMLF’s treasurer. Abelson, a corporate lawyer, serves as a board member.
Both men are practicing Jews. Gubins belongs to Congregation Beth Am Israel in Penn Valley. Abelson is a member at Temple Beth Zion-Beth Israel in Center City.
The men joined HMLF because they agree with Press when she says “having this music survive is essential.” They feel it’s important to educate younger generations that are increasingly removed from the Holocaust. But they also believe that there’s a profound and transcendent lesson about humanity in this music.
“People chose to live even while they were dying, and there was death all around them,” he said.
Press, “a fashion industry veteran” according to a press release about HMLF, launched the organization in April to align with Yom HaShoah. But the idea came to her in 2019 after she watched a “60 Minutes” piece on Maestro Francesco Lotoro, an Italian pianist and composer whose own organization, Fondazione ILMC, does the same thing. HMLF is “supporting the work of Maestro Francesco Lotoro,” per the release about its launch. Lotoro “travels around the world and meets with Holocaust survivors identified through research, outreach, educational programs and performances,” the announcement added.
Gubins and Abelson got involved because they knew Press. The treasurer and the president have a mutual friend who thought Gubins would be interested. Abelson and Press are second cousins who recently reconnected after more than 50 years.
Both men also got close with a Holocaust survivor. For Gubins, it was his Uncle Boris, who spent two years at Buchenwald. He was 80 pounds and lying on a pallet when American GIs liberated his camp. Uncle Boris settled in Bordeaux in France after the war, but Gubins met him in 1958 and learned his story. Gubins’ father immigrated to the United States in the 1920s but his twin brother, Boris, did not follow along. He thought he was safe. Gubins’ family visited Boris frequently after the war, and the uncle came to the United States on one occasion.
When asked his main reason for joining HMLF, Gubins said, “To honor my Uncle Boris.”
For Abelson, that survivor was Felix Zandman, the founder of Vishay Intertechnology, the multibillion-dollar American company that makes semiconductors and electronic parts.
During the Holocaust, Zandman lived with several other people in the basement of a Polish family’s house. After he was liberated, he went to Paris and got his Ph.D. Abelson developed a relationship with Zandman over the years. The lawyer called the founder’s story one of “survival, perseverance and ultimately triumph.”
“That personal connection was another motivating factor for me to get involved,” Abelson said.
With HMLF, Gubins and Abelson will focus on what they are good at. Gubins now runs a nonprofit, the Annual Review Investment Corp., that “manages investments,” according to HMLF’s website, so he’s serving as treasurer. Abelson will provide legal and governance oversight.
“Everybody pitches in based on their availability and skill set,” Abelson said. JE