Twelve-year-old Anna Hirsch lives in Krakow with her father, Avrum Hirsch who is a gifted clarinetist and her Baba. Anna's father plays in the Krakow Philharmonic Orchestra and also lectures at the music academy.
The novel opens with Anna and her best friend Renata stopping at Mrs. Benna's shop on the way home on a Tuesday afternoon while her father gives lessons.While snacking on their donuts they witness a group of boys who have lately been targeting Jewish kids try to bully Mrs Benna. She stands up to them and they leave. However when Anna and Renata are walking home they see the boys vandalizing the window of Mr. Kaplansky's butcher shop while the police chief Constable Zabek watches without intervening. At home Anna tells her papa and her baba about what happened and she is warned to stay away from the boys. That night they listen world famous violinist Bronislaw Huberman play a violin concerto by Tchaikovsky. However the radio broadcast is interrupted by a speech by Adolf Hitler. In his speech Hitler promises to provide jobs and good schools to all German citizens, to build a strong army to defend the country and to start by "cleansing Germany of all Jews. Country after country will follow."
However Anna's father refuses to talk about Hitler or what's happening in Poland. At school the next day Anna and Renata are confronted by Sabina Zabek who tells them that soon they won't be allowed to attend any school. After school Anna misses Renata who has indicated she has something important to tell Anna, so she visits her father's orchestra rehearsal. She is stunned to see all the Jewish members of the orchestra segregated at the back of the orchestra and not in their respective sections. She is so upset that her clarinet lesson with her father is a disaster.
During the next two weeks, there are more attacks on Jewish businesses, the headlines in the newspapers are decidely anti-Jewish. Anna's friend Stephan Ungar tells her that his father has said they will not be kicked out school, that these are isolated incidents and that this troubled time will pass, but Anna is unconvinced. They meet Renata who finally reveals that her family is fleeing Poland for Denmark in a week's time. Renata states that her parents want to leave before the situation worsens, especially since it is so difficult for Jews to obtain papers to travel to another country and that many countries do not want to take in Jewish immigrants. Anna is desolate, partly because she knows her best friend is right and partly because her own family seems reluctant to acknowledge what is happening all over Poland and Germany.
Anna confides in Baba about Renata's family leaving but her grandmother attempts to calm her by telling her everything will be fine. However Anna tells her about what she saw at orchestra practice, confronting Baba and demanding she tell her the truth. Baba tells Anna about the "ghetto chairs" for the musicians but she believes that they will be safe.
That night Papa tells them about Bronislaw Huberman's trip to Poland to recruit musicians for an orchestra in Palestine. Papa tells Anna and Baba that Huberman is inviting Jewish musicians to audition. When Anna hears this she attempts to convince her father to audition by telling him everything that she has witnessed in the streets. However her father refuses to believe that the situation is dire, stating that their lives are in Poland and they cannot simply leave for something so uncertain. Anna is completely devastated. How can she convince her father that they must leave Poland and that Huberman's auditions may be their only way out?
The Sound of Freedom portrays a real life event that occurred just before the onset of World War II through the eyes of a young girl. The Hirsch family is fictional; there was no Avrum Hirsch who was a clarinetist recruited by Bronislaw Huberman. But Huberman did recruit seventy musicians for his Palestine Orchestra which was formed in 1936. At a time when getting travel documents was almost impossible for people of Jewish heritage, somehow Huberman managed to obtain enough to bring not only the musicians but their families too. The novel covers the period up to the historic concert given by the Palestine Symphony Orchestra on December 26, 1936, conducted by Maestro Toscanini.
Kacer seamlessly incorporates many historical facts into her novel; the increasingly violent harassment of Jews in Poland, Huberman's method of auditioning musicians, the difficulties he encountered obtaining visas, the theft of his Stradivarius violin, and life in British Mandate Palestine. Kacer mentions some of the challenges Anna and her fellow emigrants experienced in moving to Palestine, including learning Hebrew and dealing with attacks on the area by Arabs. Life in Palestine would most certainly have been vastly different for European Jews who settled there.
|Toscanni and Huberman Palestine Symphony Orchestra|
When Anna's friend Eric and his family decide to return to Poland, Anna is distraught. Although Palestine is also struggling with conflict, the Jewish people are safer than in Europe and Anna wonders about the fate of Eric. Some musicians and their families did decide to return to Europe. Those who did, would not survive the war. Near the end of the novel, Anna learns that Bronislaw Huberman brought over one thousands Jews to Palestine and as history now knows - saving these gifted musicians and their families -from the death camps of Adolf Hitler. If only more people had acted, how many more could have been saved?
Kacer is a Canadian author whose parents are survivors of the Holocaust; her mother survived by hiding and her father survived the death camps. The novel was written at the suggestion of the publisher, Annick Press. The Sound of Freedom is the first in what will be a series of four books called the Heroes Quartet. The next installment, a book about the famous French mime artist Marcel Marceau is due out March 2019. In light of the recent poll that suggests many children under the age of fourteen do not know what the word Holocaust refers to, Kacer's novel is all the more timely.
Readers are encouraged to view the documentary, Orchestra of Exiles which examines Huberman's efforts to put together an orchestra in Palestine and preserve some of the Jewish musical heritage which he felt certain would be destroyed by the coming cataclysm.
Information on the Palestine Symphony Orchestra can be found at the Jewish Virtual Library.
The Sound of Freedom by Kathy Kacer
Toronto: Annick Press Ltd. 2017