Who knows about Jura Soyfer (1912 – 1939) today? Actually one of his theatre pieces, “Broadway Melody 1492”, was the first one I ever acted in! So this means a whole lot to me. His sense of humour fits my taste and he was so accurate about many things.
His life and death is one of the tragedies of the 20th centuries. Born in Charkow (Ukraine), the family migrated to Vienna in 1921, due to the political situation. Imagine a 9 year old boy coming to a boasting and busy city, yet filled with lots of veterans from the first world war, filled with poverty, with political and street fights … The 1920s must have been an interesting time here, with all the hopes of people, yet the political mistakes done that led to what we know as one of the biggest tragedies (fascism and another world war). Austrian politicans who also, just like a majority of people, thought the small Austria could not survive alone and thus favouring the Anschluss to Germany. This was always a wish, long before Hitler got big.
And in this bustling city with all its freedom feelings and poverty, Soyfer grew up. He got political engaged, he started to write pieces, that were well played in theatres. He joined the Socialdemocrats, later the Communists. After the infamous Anschluss, he tried to escape to Switzerland but was caught (by Austrian officers who had not yet taken an oath to Hitler Germany!)
Dachau & the Dachaulied (Dachau song)
Soyfer was sent to the concentration camp Dachau – and still kept on as a thinking individual and a human. He was part of resistence also within the concentration camp (also with scetches). His famous song “Dachaulied” brings you to tears once you hear it, you will never forget. I never could. I heard it sung by a woman and a man once, in a small celebration of his works at a school close by. The song talks about how important it is to stay human in all this inhuman surrounding … Quote:
Sei ein Mann, Kamerad. (= Be a man, comrade.)
Bleib ein Mensch, Kamerad. (= Stay a human, comrade.)
The music is from Herbert Zipper, a man who was also in Dachau, but could escape to Guatemala (Wikipedia). And how did this be distributed?
“Somehow the Dachau Lied made its way out of Dachau to other prison camps – to France and Holland, even to England and Mexico. The song survived the war throught the oral tradition and was published in East Germany in an anthology of antifascist songs of concentration camps. In 1953 Zipper received a letter from the East German Ministry of Culture asking if he was the H. Zipper who wrote the ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ song. In the meantime the collected works of Jura Soyfer were published with the song included. It is clear, as so many other writers have noted, that works of art once created often have a life of their own. ‘Dachau Lied’ was one such creation.” (Paul Cummins, Dachau Song. The Twentieth Century Odyssey of Herbert Zipper, New York, Berlin, Bern, Frankfurt/Main, Paris, Wien 1992)
You can read more about Soyfers works and his biografy here: >> Jura Soyfer Society.
The site mentions a book with many of his works in English, called “It’s up to Us!” at Ariadne Press. I sure recommend reading them! Their description:
Jura Soyfer (1912-1939), that eloquent spokesman for the aspirations of working-class people, devoted his tragically brief life to a vigorous but ultimately futile fight against the deleterious slackness, apathy, disunion, and fatalistic resignation of his compatriots.