Music is of vital importance to Saul Dreier and Reuwen (“Ruby”) Sosnowicz, otherwise known as The Holocaust Survivor Band. The pair spoke to over 1,000 students at Lynn English High School about their experience in the Holocaust on Friday, November 4. “Saul and Ruby actually met through music,” said Dulce Gonzalez, project coordinator of the Global Embassy of Activists for Peace, who ran the event.
“They are very spontaneous people,” continued Gonzalez. The band formed in the summer of 2014 when Dreier, a drummer who retired in Boca Raton, Florida, decided to start a klezmer band, drawing upon the music from his childhood in Poland. Teaming up with Polish accordionist, Sosnowicz, together they created the Holocaust Survivor Band. They have performed in Las Vegas, Israel, local temples, at former concentration camps such as Auschwitz and Treblinka, and at Schindler’s factory.
During the event, the two survivors emphasized the importance of remembering the Holocaust, but they also focused on the significance of maintaining hope. “It’s always possible for life to prevail and to survive and I think that’s one of the biggest messages that they brought to the students on Friday,” said Gonzalez. Dreier, 92, and Sosnowicz, 87, taught the students to work together and maintain hope in the face of dark, disturbing times. “They were both amazing speakers,” said the school principal, Thomas Strangie.
The event was coordinated by the Global Embassy of Activists for Peace, an initiative that works for human rights and dignity. “All of the speakers truly had an impact on all of the students at the event and every one of them spoke very differently,” said Gonzalez. Speakers included the two Holocaust survivors, State Representatives Lori Ehrlich and Brendan Crighton, Senator Thomas McGee, Superintendent of Lynn Public Schools Dr. Catherine C. Latham, and Robert Leikind, director of the Boston chapter of the American Jewish Committee.
“Rob Leikind definitely spoke tremendously, his speech was remarkable,” said Gonzalez. Leikind spoke about his family, presenting a different perspective to the students. Both of his parents were Holocaust survivors and he told the students that the reason he was standing in front of them that day was because of his parents’ ability to survive.
Sosnowicz spoke to the audience about his family, living in Poland at the start of WWII. “His family didn’t know exactly what was going on during the Holocaust,” said Gonzalez. He related that his brother, who was in the Polish Army, came home one day telling the family that the Germans were invading. “They didn’t understand why they were being persecuted,” said Gonzalez.
Sosnowicz lost connection with his family that night. He never saw his parents again. A Polish farmer hid him in a barn and he spent five years sleeping among farm animals on hay, rummaging through garbage for scraps of food at night. He ended up in a displaced persons camp in Germany after the war, and developed his therapeutic passion for music playing the accordion. “It was astonishing,” said Gonzalez, “he is very moving.”
Dreier, who survived three concentration camps, brought a letter, written by a Muslim boy in Australia. The boy wrote to him, apologizing for the atrocities he endured in the Holocaust, expressing his support for the Holocaust Survivor Band, and explaining his aspirations to teach his own children one day about the importance of the Holocaust, and remembering the past for the future to prevent genocides from happening again.
During his time in one of the camps, Dreier sang with other boys and a cantor living with him in his barracks, forming a choir. They sang soprano, tenor and baritone parts, alternating as they grew up due to their voice changes. It was there that Dreier learned to play drums, banging two spoons together to the beat accompanying the choir, according to published reports.
“Our kids were very receptive and gave them a lot of applause and a standing ovation,” said Strangie. According to him, it is important to maintain Holocaust remembrance in school because students need to know that they have to stand up for what’s right. “The most minor hatred, if it’s allowed to grow and grow, can reach its maximum destruction as we witnessed in history through the Holocaust,” said Strangie. Through speaking to audiences and playing at concerts, Dreier and Sosnowicz share their experiences so that those who didn’t experience the Holocaust will never forget the truth.