Orchestra Started by Shoah Refugees

By Tyler Bridges

Published March 24, 2006, issue of March 24, 2006.

LA PAZ, Bolivia — Erich Eisner founded the Bolivian National Symphony Orchestra in 1945, six years after being released from the Dachau concentration camp and landing in the South American country.

Bolivia was one of the few countries still willing to take Jews as World War II erupted in 1939.

Eisner, a pianist born in Prague in 1897, had apprenticed under Bruno Walter, one of the 20th century’s major conductors. In the 1930s, he worked at theaters in southern Germany and in Austria.

Eisner was arrested after the Kristallnacht pogrom of November 1938.

He won his release from Dachau and went to Bolivia via Great Britain.

Under Eisner, the orchestra operated under Spartan conditions in La Paz. But he found a willing ensemble. Almost all the musicians were Jewish refugees from Austria, Germany, Poland and Czechoslovakia.

Eisner headed the orchestra until his death in 1956.

A piece he composed in 1941, “Cantata Bolivia,” was performed in Israel in 2003 and then by the Bolivian National Symphony Orchestra.

The Jewish Museum Berlin hosted a small exhibit on Eisner in 2003, and also on painter Kurt Bialostotzky, who also escaped to Bolivia in 1939.



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