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Star pianist Igor Levit holds event against antisemitism

November 28, 2023

Germany's cultural scene largely avoided showing solidarity with the victims of the Hamas attacks in Israel, pianist Igor Levit has said, which is why he wanted to hold an event that would break the silence.

Igor Levit playing piano
The event planned by Igor Levit sold out within minutes, organizers saidImage: Hannes P Albert/dpa/picture alliance

Ever since Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, antisemitic incidents have been on the rise in Germany.

Igor Levit said he was extremely disappointed by German society's silence after Hamas murdered over 1,200 Israelis and kidnapped 240 civilians on October 7. The country's cultural scene is usually so quick to react to injustice — and thankfully so, he noted in an Instagram post. 

He said he was equally shocked by the lack of reaction when antisemitic incidents started rising in Germany following the attack.

"A major part of society has not taken a stand," he told DW right before his solidarity concert on Monday. 

The event, titled "Against silence. Against antisemitism," took place at the Berliner Ensemble, one of the German capital's most acclaimed theaters. It brought together notable individuals from across Germany's cultural and political landscapes who offered musical performances, speeches and readings against hate.

An evening of music against antisemitism

Duty to take a stand

Writer Michel Friedman, a former president of the European Jewish Congress and who co-organized the event with Levit, said in his speech that it was essential to take a stand against antisemitism, especially considering that for weeks, Germany's theater and cultural scene had done too little to show their support for the victims of Hamas' terrorist attacks.

In recent weeks, Germany has seen rallies in support of Israelis, but as well in support of Palestinians, as the Hamas-led Health Ministry in Gaza has said some 13,000 people have been killed since Israel's military began retaliatory airstrikes and a ground offensive following the Hamas attacks. Hamas is a militant, Islamist, Palestinian group. The European Union as well as the United States, Germany and several other countries classify Hamas as a terrorist organization.

Alongside Igor Levit, singer-songwriter Wolf Biermann, rock band Die Toten Hosen, pop star Sven Regener, composer Malakoff Kowalski and the new principal conductor and artistic director of the Konzerthausorchester Berlin, Joana Mallwitz, among others, contributed to the musical program.

Igor Levit playing with violinist Cosima Soulez Lariviere.
Igor Levit playing with violinist Cosima Soulez LariviereImage: Hannes P Albert/dpa/picture alliance

Other guests at the event included Holocaust survivor Margot Friedländer, ZDF journalist Dunja Hayali, actress Katharina Thalbach, climate activist Luisa Neubauer and director Maria Schrader.

The 700 tickets to the event were sold out within a few minutes, organizers said. 

The nearly four-hour event also included readings of a text by French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre and from Carolin Emcke's book "Against Hate."

102-year-old Holocaust survivor 'horrified' by growing antisemitism

"Everyone is human and comes into this world the same way. There is no Christian, no Muslim, no Jewish blood. There is only human blood," said Holocaust survivor Margot Friedländer in her speech at the Berliner Ensemble. "We can and we must be careful; we must be human."

Writer Michel Friedman greeting Holocaust survivor Margot Friedländer, his head on hers.
Writer Michel Friedman and Holocaust survivor Margot Friedländer on stage at the Berliner EnsembleImage: Hannes P Albert/dpa/picture alliance

Friedländer, who was living in Berlin when the Nazis took power and who survived a concentration camp, emigrated to the United States after the war. She decided to return to her home city in 2010, thinking at the time "that nothing could ever change. Everything was wonderful and good," said the 102-year-old.

But, she added, "I am horrified by what is now happening."

A German organization monitoring antisemitic incidents, RIAS e.V., reported that antisemitic incidents increased by at least 240% in the week following October 7, compared to last year, and included a synagogue in Berlin that was firebombed.

Event offers 'consolation' amid lack of support

"The majority of the Jews in Germany are depressed, are sad and are thinking about options, also to leave the country — to leave Europe," Friedman told DW. "One of the reasons we are doing this concert is to empower Jewish society, [to show them] that they are not alone."

Levit described the evening as a form of "consolation," but he also said the events of the past weeks have led him to wonder if Germany is still the best home for him. 

The star pianist said he will always defend universal human rights: "I would take to the streets for every minority, anyone who is endangered." 

The acclaimed musician plans to organize at least 15 more events similar to Monday's, with proceeds going to initiatives against antisemitic violence and discrimination.

Andrea Horakh conducted the interviews with Igor Levit and Michel Friedman.

Edited by: Brenda Haas

Portrait of a young woman with red hair and glasses
Elizabeth Grenier Editor and reporter for DW Culture