Holocaust survivor speaks in Union

By Gwenn Barney

After every chair in the room was taken, students turned the window sills and floor into seats… After every chair in the room was taken, students turned the window sills and floor into seats to hear Cantor Moshe Taube tell his life story.

Pitt’s Chabad House brought Taube to the William Pitt Union last night in order to teach students about the Holocaust.

“As you know, I am a survivor of the Holocaust,” Taube told the 60 students gathered in the Union, asking them to remember the events which transpired during to the Holocaust and to pass that knowledge on.

“We have to work and be alert all the time,” he said. “We have to remember and draw conclusions and impart the facts to the next generation.”

Senior Marissa Goldrich was inspired by Taube’s message and his resilience.

“Just the fact that he kept on going and never lost his faith was inspirational,” she said.

Born in 1927 in Krakow, Poland, Taube is one of nearly 1,200 Jews rescued from the Holocaust by the actions of German industrialist Oskar Schindler. Between 1943 and 1945, Schindler employed Jewish workers in his enamelware and ammunition factories at Brunnlitz.

By convincing Nazi SS officers that his Jewish employees’ work was essential to the war effort, he prevented them from a fate in the death camps. Schindler’s efforts were immortalized in the 1993 film “Schindler’s List.”

“I saw [Schindler] almost daily on the factory floor,” Taube said. “He wore a white shirt always; chain smoking and calling in a raspy voice.”

Taube spoke about Schindler’s small kindnesses to his workers. He emphasized the way Schindler would not smoke his cigarette all the way to its butt, but rather would toss part of it down to the factory floor for his workers to finish.

Taube was not alone during his time in Brunnlitz. His father, Emmanuel, shared a bunk with him in the camp. In the factory, Taube painted shell components so that they wouldn’t rust. His father worked in the storage sector where he counted shells and put them in wooden boxes to be shipped. The two woke up at 5 a.m. daily and began work at 6. Taube describes his time in Brunnlitz with one word: starvation.

When the Russian army liberated Brunnlitz in 1945, Taube’s thoughts were removed from his new freedom.

“I didn’t feel anything because I was as sick as a dog from malnutrition. I couldn’t rejoice. I was thinking ‘OK, so we are free. Good. Where is the next piece of bread?”

After the war, in 1946, Taube found his way to what soon became Israel, where he served in the Haganah, an underground precursor to the modern Israeli armed forces. He also discovered a love and talent for singing as well as a passion for religion in the years after the Holocaust. These passions led him to pursue a career as a cantor and attend the Julliard School on scholarship which he graduated from in 1962.

Friends told Taube he should use his talent to sing opera, but Taube felt a higher calling.

“Since the almighty saved me in many instances from death, I will devote my voice to the service of [God], not to the service of entertainment.”

He took the position of cantor at Congregation Beth Shalom in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill Community three years later and sang there for 40 years until his retirement in December 2004. He still sings for the High Holidays in that synagogue.

Following the release of “Schindler’s List,” Taube earned a measure of celebrity. He appeared on “Larry King Live” and was approached by a number of media outlets from around the world for interviews. However, the cantor prefers to be known for his singing rather than his time on Schindler’s list.

“To be applauded for good singing is far more enjoyable than being pitied for past suffering,” Taube said.