After his arrest, trumpeter Pieter Dolk found himself at the Vught Concentration Camp in March 1943, along with other Dutch musicians such as Nico Richter, Marius Flothuis, Everard van Royen, and Piet van den Hurk. Giving concerts together for their fellow inmates, they forged lifelong friendships with each other.
“One morning, all the musicians were ordered to step forward during roll-call. We were told that a camp orchestra was to be formed. The camp commander was a pompous fool who wanted a status symbol of all things! In the camp, there were a few musical instruments that had been stolen by the SS, mostly from deported Jews. The instruments we didn’t have had to be sent for from home. Piet van den Hurk, then conductor of the NCRV Orchestra, was appointed our conductor. The number of players and the combination of instruments varied because of the deportations to Westerbork and Germany and new prisoners arriving.
The repertoire we performed consisted of popular classical pieces and salon music. [...] There were also performances in the style of Johnny and Jones, a popular radio singing duo from before the war. [...] There was one parody about the train to the Lager [camp]. We rehearsed in the mornings. In the afternoons, Everard van Royen and I worked as cleaners. We had to scrub floors and scour the johns in the Krankenrevier [barracks in which the sick were housed].
We gave one performance a week in the music barracks, and we played for the SS Kommandantur [commandants’ office] in the inner courtyard two or three times. Sometimes members of the SS would come to the music barracks to listen. Once it was raining, but we had to play outdoors anyway - string instruments and all. Most of the performances were well attended. But once there was practically no one in the hall. Roll was called early in the morning, and people had to work hard all day long and didn’t always feel like going to listen to the camp orchestra play in the evening on top of all that. But this one particular time, the place was so empty that the Oberscharführer [Senior Squad Leader] thought it was simply unacceptable. The men were called together and told they had better get to the concert as fast as they could. They were literally and figuratively beaten into the hall.”
Orchestra Offers Temporary Protection
“The orchestra became a fatigue party. There were daily rehearsals, but performances were less frequent than they would have been in our n ormal lives outside the camp.” Members of the orchestra were exempt from participating in the exhausting outdoor fatigues. The musicians were thus protected (at least temporarily), even those who were Jewish. “It was a professional orchestra made up of maybe twenty or twenty-five men. [...] Most of them were Jewish. [...] There was a guitarist, a ‘Convict Jew’ called Max Groen, one of the few Jews to survive the war. Gomez de Mesquita played the recorder, or at least pretended to, since he didn’t know the first thing about it. In an effort to protect them [by deferring their deportation], van den Hurk would always say he needed the guitar and recorder in his orchestra. [...] We were happy that we ran less risk as musicians.”
But after about four months, the orchestra was disbanded: “The conceited camp commander Chmielewski was relieved of his position, and his successor Grünewald thought an orchestra far too great a luxury for a concentration camp. He dissolved it and had the musicians transferred again to ‘normal’ fatigue parties. Even after that, there was still a lot of music making, but that was limited to us playing chamber music in our spare time. For the prisoners, the chamber music evenings in the camp mainly meant one thing - resting after a hard day’s work and getting the chance to forget their misfortunes just for a moment.”
Richter, Flothuis, and van Royen: Friends for Life
A lifelong friendship developed between Pieter, composer/violonist Nico Richter (1915-1945), composer Marius Flothuis (1914-2001), and composer Everard van Royen (1913-1987). Their lives revolved around music. Nico Richter had already established a good reputation as a musician in Amsterdam before he was informed against and arrested. He was incarcerated at Vught from January to mid-November 1943 where he took part in the camp orchestra and at least one chamber music performance, given on August 1, 1943. Pieter recalls him as being an “extraordinarily musical, pleasant, and warm-hearted person.” After liberation, Nico Richter returned from Auschwitz critically ill. Pieter had planned to visit him one last time on August 16 to say goodbye. But it was too late: Richter died during the night of August 15, 1945.
Flothuis wrote a flute concerto (op. 19, composed in 1944) for van Royen at Vught who premiered the work with the Netherlands Radio Chamber Orchestra under composer Bertus van Lier shortly after liberation. Also while incarcerated in the camp, he wrote Aria for trumpet and piano (op. 18, composed in 1944) for Pieter. After the war, Pieter lived for quite some time in “Flot’s” house; Everard and his wife, harpsichordist Gusta Goldschmidt (“Guusje”) lived nearby. Right up to the end of his life, Pieter maintained close ties with them.
His experiences at Vught, as well as his personal friendship with Flothuis and van Royen both in the camp and afterwards, left an indelible stamp on Pieter’s musical and personal development.
Release and Freedom: From Amateur Trumpeter to Professional Musician
After his release on April 12, 1944, Pieter went to Amsterdam. Music had become an integral part of his life. Although only an amateur trumpeter before his arrest, he decided to launch a career as a professional musician after his release from Vught. He had started out playing popular music (with Tom van der Stap and his Witte Raven orchestra, among others), but after liberation, he focused on serious, classical, early, and contemporary music. He took lessons with Marinus Komst (principal trumpeter with the Concertgebouw Orchestra) and went on to play with the orchestra of De Nederlandse Opera, the Residentie Orchestra, and the Groningse Orkest Vereniging [Groningen Orchestral Society]. Pieter also became a respected conductor of wind bands and was a pioneer of the Baroque trumpet (“clarino”).
After the war, he continued to empathize with the Jewish people by, for instance, learning to play the shofar, the ram’s horn. Working closely with Chaim Storosum’s Collegium Musicum Judaicum, he eventually came to be one of the only people in the world who could produce more than one note on the instrument.
According to a notice in a local newspaper, Pieter was arrested on December 16, 1942, for having given preferential treatment to Jews. In fact, he had assisted Jewish musicians who had played a crucial role in his musical development: his piano and music theory teacher Carel Drukker, Jack and Clara de Vries (his trumpet teacher Arend the Vries’s musically talented and well-known children), and the well-known trumpet player and violinist Louis Bannet, with whom Pieter had occasionally played gigs. During a trip to the latter’s hiding place, Pieter was shadowed and then informed against.
Pieter grew up in a musical family in the Dutch town of Zwijndrecht. His father played folk songs on the harmonica, his mother enjoyed singing, an older brother played the clarinet in a wind band, and one of his aunts had a grammophone on which she most enjoyed playing operas. He chose the trumpet as a boy after hearing the trumpeter with a small group of German refugee musicians playing solo. He was given lessons first on the piccolo and flute, and then on the trumpet after turning sixteen, when he was old enough to play it. From the age of fourteen, he earned his living as an office and shop assistant in a grocer’s. Although associated with small amateur entertainment and jazz groups, his heart belonged to classical music. After the composer Hugo de Groot put in a good word for him, Pieter was admitted in 1938 to the Rotterdam Music Conservatory, where Willem Pijper was the director. He was unable to complete his studies, however, because of the war.
Author: Annette de Klerk
The first two paragraphes are quotes of supplements about Dutch musiciens in Vught and Theresienstadt to 'Muziek in Theresienstadt 1941-1945', Joža Karas; Pendragon Press, 1990; supplements byTheodore van Houten; Panta Rhei, 1995