16th of November is the 75th anniversary Joseph Schmidt’s death – a genius lyrical tenor from the Bukovynian village Davydeny (today Davydivka). His wonderful voice brought world fame not only to him but also to Chernivtsi.
Portrait of Joseph Schmidt
Chernivtsi is the very city where Joseph Schmidt’s career began in the boys’ choir of the Judaic Temple, but unfortunately his musical career was too short. Here, in the city on the Pruth, he grew into a brilliant master of the Jewish psalmody and for some period he even had the position of a singer beginning an introductory song in the Temple.
That is why it is quite logical that his first official concert was held here in Chernivtsi. It took place at the beginning of November 1924 in the hall of the Musical Society (today – the building of the Chernivtsi Oblast Philarmonia).
His closest people remained here in his native city, while he was conquering hundreds of opera world stages of that time, he came back here for the first time already in a status of a world star in September 1933. He came back not only to see his family, but also to help the Jewish community of the city to finish the building of the children’s hospital. And furthermore, he wanted to look in the eye of the doctor of a local Jewish hospital, who while examining a sore throat of an unknown young man, commented in a sarcastic way that Joseph would never become a singer.
Annonce of Joseph Schmidt’s performance in Chernivtsi in the newspaper “Ostjüdische Zeitung” from 13th of September 1933
The news of the only Joseph Schmidt concert in Chernivtsi turned up the heat in the city. In order for all, who wished to listen to the voice of their compatriot, Chernivtsi pioneers of radio techniques created a real wonder: the concert was broadcasted live from the hall of the Musical Society to the hall of the Jewish House.
Following this event, a world famous tenor and film star Joseph Schmidt visited his native city three times: in December 1935 for the wedding of his sister Mariem; in November 1926 to perform on the stage of “Scala” (today Akademichnyi Palace) in favor of “The Society for the Fight against Tuberculosis among the Jews in Bukovyna”; in summer 1938 visited Chernivtsi incognito to help his mother formalize documents for leaving from a tumultuous Romania to Western Europe.
Everybody who knew Joseph Schmidt personally, always wondered how open, humble and how strong he was to fight off all temptations of fame. But only the closest friends knew how weak, unpractical and unhappy he was, this “tiny man with a great voice”, in his private life.
Still from the film “A Star Fell from Heaven”
The still from the movie “A Song Goes Round the World”
But the biggest sorrow of Joseph Schmidt was that his finest hour coincided with the period in Europe when people’s cruelty reached its climax. Only in a few years he turned into a humiliated Jewish outcast without family, friends and documents.
The wonderful singing of Joseph Schmidt was heard for the last time on 16th of November in 1942 in a small hotel of the city Girenbad (Switzerland). His last days 38-year-old Joseph Schmidt spent in the camp for refugees. His bright star died away here in a foreign country. The star, which had risen in Chernivtsi.
The star of Joseph Schmidt on the Bukovynian „Walk of Fame“ in Chernivtsi