The Pianist — Waste and Void

Freddy Zalta
8 min readMay 11, 2018

Jonathan crawled towards the piano — lifted himself up and stood holding on to the bench while his fingers played with the keys. According to his mother Jonathan began to play a Mozart concerto — according to his father he simply pressed on the ivories. In either case, he was 13 months old and he already was gravitating to the instrument that would be a part of him for the rest of his life.
Bertha, Jonathan’s mother, was born in Budapest, Hungary on August 23, 1924. Her father was a highly regarded cardiologist and her mother had been a teacher at a small music school, teaching piano to middle schoolers. Bertha quickly took to the piano. She would listen and watch as her mother taught and played, ingesting each and every lesson and song.
By the time she was 6 years old she was a classical pianist who was accepted into the National Hungarian Royal Franz Liszt Academy. Between the ages of 10 and 14 the whispers filled with adulation descended into shouts filled with hatred. At the age of 10 years old she was labeled a prodigy; by the time she was 14, she was labeled a "Jew,” expelled from the school and forbidden to play her instrument publicly lest she be arrested.
Her family lived in an older home a block from the Danube. The home was an ornate two story building with five bedrooms. The piano was in the main parlor where a rounded window faced the well manicured gardens and in the distance the Danube. It was in this parlor that her father, having returned from a Medical convention in Berlin, broke the news about the book burning that had taken place.
“I was warned by my friend to leave Berlin two days ago, he told me that Goebbels would be speaking and a large gathering would be taking place. I never in my imagination expected to see what happened.”
Over forty thousand people gathered in the state opera square as Joseph Goebbels gave a hate filled speech directed primarily at the Jewish people — 25,000 books were then incinerated as hatred fueled the flames burning the words of Einstein, Freud and many other works which were now deemed, “Un-German.” Even at the age of 9 years she was in tears when her father told her about the book burning across Germany; inconsolable, Bertha went on to dedicate herself to the piano with even more passion — learning the works of Liszt, Wagner, Mozart and many others.
One evening in 1937, she overheard her parents speaking.
“We need to send her to America.” Her father said.
“How will she cope with it all?”
“She will cope and she will flourish. Once this whole stupidity dies down she will come back. We need to send them all to…

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