Skip To Content

Walter Hautzig’s Talent Brought Him Fame – And Saved Him From The Holocaust

Walter Hautzig’s path out of Nazi-occupied Austria began with a piano his grandfather purchased for his mother, his daughter explained at his funeral this past Thursday. If his mother decided to go with the other option he had given her for a gift — a fur coat — things might have turned out very differently.

As it was, Hautzig — who The New York Times’s Sam Roberts reported passed away from congestive heart failure last Monday at the age of 95 — cultivated a talent for and commitment to the piano that, at age 16, won him an exit visa from Vienna after he auditioned for Emil Hauser, founder of the Budapest String Quartet and director of the Jerusalem Conservatory. (Hautzig learned of the opportunity to play for Hauser, who was bestowing both visas and admission to the Conservatory on the most impressive applicants, from the Jewish newspaper Der Kol (“The Voice”).)

He moved to Jerusalem a month later, leaving his family behind without any idea of what their future might hold; it was months before he received word that, while some of his relatives had been sent to Buchenwald, his parents had escaped to Switzerland, and then to New York.

He joined them there a year and a half after he left Austria. Once in the United States, he studied with the maestro Artur Schnabel — who had previously taught one of his mentors at the Jerusalem Conservatory, Alfred Schroeder — as well as at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music. As Roberts wrote in an obituary published February 6, Hautzig made his concert debut in the United States in 1938, at age 21, playing Bach, Beethoven and Chopin at Manhattan’s Town Hall.

As Eli Rosenblatt wrote for the Forward in a 2007 profile of Hautzig, the pianist became an artistic diplomat. “Many of his performances were arranged by the U.S. State Department, and he performed in Tokyo, Kabul, Dhaka, Vietnam, Indonesia, Guatemala, Colombia, Guyana and Suriname, among many other locations,” Rosenblatt wrote. “Many times, in some countries, the only people I would play for were diplomats and government officials, not natives,” Hautzig told him.

Recalling a concert he gave with the Berlin Philharmonic in 1960, Hautzig told Rosenblatt, “I walked in, and they gave me a standing ovation immediately. I asked myself, ‘Where was Goring sitting?’”

Hautzig, who served on the faculty of The Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore as a professor of piano between 1960 and 1988, performed well into his later years. Hi wife Esther Hautzig (née Rudomin) passed away in 2009; he is survived by his daughter, Deborah Hautzig, son, David Hautzig, and three grandchildren.

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.