Thursday, June 30, 2011

Spotlight on Herbert Zipper

"Scratch an orchestra musician in Manila and you will find Herbert Zipper"

A Matter of Introduction

Herbert Zipper
In summer of 1995, while living in Zürich, I made a side trip to Munich, Germany.  It was my first visit to the Bavarian region and due to excitement,  I remember cramming on the historical places I wanted to visit, that in the end I actually ran out of places to go. Then I thought of Dachau. So in the last pace of my tour, I decided to drop by the Dachau concentration camp, about 20 kilometers from Munich.

 Once in Dachau, I chanced upon the list of people incarcerated there. There were  poets, writers, artists,  politicians and even musicians.  Dachau happens to be one of the early places where the Nazis started Adolf Hitler's Nazification progam, an experiment in terror and inhumanity. Intellectuals were among the very first ...... And true enough after they burned books, they started to burn people... Going to the list of musician/intellectual one name caught my eyes, the name; Herbert Zipper.
Dachau,  place of horrendous  brutalities in Nazi times

I recall, in the rehearsal hall of the old Manila Symphony Orchestra (MSO I) at  the Manila Metropolitan Theater,  two pictures hang on the wall,  that of  MSO founder, Alexander Lippay and Herbert Zipper  the orchestra's famous conductor. So there in Dachau I asked myself: "Is this Herbert Zipper and the celebrated Herbert Zipper of MSO,  one person?" I also remember some MSO old timers telling me; Zipper was MSO conductor before and also during the Japanese occupation. If it was him, how did he made it to Manila?
The author at Dachau's commemorative wall

When I went back to Zurich, I wamted to do further research, I wanted to find out more about this case, maybe of two Herbert Zippers? I went to Zürich Central Library to do a check. In the computer section of the library, I found out that Herbert Zipper, the former conductor and musical director of the MSO , was the same Herbert Zipper incarcerated at Dachau.

Incarcerated twice
What I found out later was much more interesting. In 1939,  Herbert Zipper was released from Nazi imprisonment.  Once free,  he got an invitation to direct the MSO with the recommendation of his fiancee, viennese ballerina Trudl Dubsky,  who was that time living in Manila and was a dance instructor. He made it to Manila the same year.  After  two years of leading the orchestra, disaster struck once again. Manila surrendered to the Japanese. Zipper was then incarcerated for the second time at the UST internment camp for civilian POW's.
The author at Dachau's main gate and that frightening message

A Viennese Jew
Herbert Zipper was born Aprill 24 1904 to a prosperous Jewish family in the outskirt of Vienna. He studied composition and conducting  under such renowned luminaries as Maurice Ravel  and Richard Strauss. In 1938 after the Nazi Anschluss (annexation of Austria), Zipper like many of Jewish descent was arrested and was sent to Dachau. In the concentration camp, Zipper together with musicians colleagues organized a secret ensemble, playing with improvised instruments on abandoned latrine. Together with a friend playwright Jura Soyfer he wrote "Dachau Lied" (Dachau Song) which became the protest song of the camp. Confronted with inhumanity they organized such activities to make life bearable. It gave him strength to go on and to somehow resist the inconceivable.
Zipper's "Ausweiss" or ID card
Herbert Zipper was then transfered to another camp at Buchenwald in 1939. Finally in the middle of the same year,  his family was able to secure his release. He went to Paris and from there traveled to Manila to lead the MSO and to be with his fiancee Trudl Dubsky,  where they were later married.  Manila that time was fast becoming a haven for Jewish refugees. President Manuel L. Quezon's program of providing asylum to European Jews is unique in history. While other countries refused to take them,  the Philippines was offering a place and even conceptualizing Mindanao as a permanent haven for Jews. So they came, there were businessmen, doctors, engineers and artist like Zipper and his wife who added their expertise to the already rich cultural scene of the country.

Collectively this Jewish refugees would be known as  "Manilaners".

Intelligence for the Allies
 When Manila fell to the Japanese, Zipper was incarcerated at UST for almost four months. Due to the liniency of the Japanese towards German and Austrian Jews in the early part of occupation, Zipper was released. He was asked to lend his services and that of the MSO to the Japanese cultural authorities. It was said that Zipper hid some of the instruments outside Manila, so that they would not play for the Japanese.

LIFE Magazine photo of the UST internment camp for civilian POW's after it was liberated
 Hard times it was during the Japanese occupation. The Zippers lost a lot of their precious posessions. Things were becoming unbearable in  Manila. Basic commodities were scarce,  but such hindrance did not push them into complete inactivity. There are times also that music has to wait for a different cause. Herbert Zipper's inactive days with music was spent gathering intelligence for the Allied forces. Somehow a communique was established. Zipper fed the allied intelligence with informations about the Japanese naval fleet dockings in Manila Bay. Also unknown to the Japanese that time, some members of the MSO were part of a guerilla intelligence group feeding the resistance with much needed infos about Japanese troop numbers and movement in the capital. That some of them, in their nightly gigs at clubs frequented by Japanese officers, were doubling as agent, gathering the needed intelligence.

 When liberation finally came, the American Liberation Forces through Mrs.Jane McArthur (wife of General McArthur), then asked Zipper to lead the MSO in a performance of Beethoven's Symphony no. 3 "Eroica" and Antonin Dvorak's New World Symphony. It was a scene to behold, watching the emaciated Herbert Zipper, fresh from the horrors of the liberation of Manila, conducting the MSO in the half ruined church of Sta Cruz. As if the whole country was saying; " We are still here. You did not completely destroy us!"

The Program that said a lot.
The MSO concert at the ruined Sta. Cruz Church May 1945

To America
After the war, like most Jewish refugees who came to Manila in the 1930's, Herbert Zipper and his wife emigrated to the US. There he received teaching positions to various music institutions and was active organizing and starting many community arts centers throughout the country,  returning only to Manila every summer to conduct the MSO in it's concert season. He also revived the Brooklyn Symphony, an orchestra of people and color,  heralding the truth of racial equality. In 1976 his wife Trudl died of  lung cancer,  but grief did not stop Zipper from continuing on his work in the arts. In the 1980's he began a series of trip to China imparting his knowledge to a new generation of young musicians.

Teacher of our teachers
 In the Philippines, Herbert Zipper is fondly remembered by the generation he trained and conducted as their "Maestro". That when asked about their musical training, most uttered such familiar line: "I was with Zipper".....".I trained under Maestro Zipper". Perhaps the younger generation of musicians does not realized it anymore, but Herbert Zipper was the teacher of our teachers.

One could only sum up Zipper's contribution in Philippine music as simply,  immense. With the of kind of outstanding young talents we have right now in classical music, one cannot help but wonder what could have been without the likes of Maestro Zipper imparting his knowledge to our country. Scratch an orchestra musician in Manila and you will find Herbert Zipper.

In 1995 Herbert Zipper's life was featured in a documentary film, Never Give Up: The 20th Century Odyssey of Herbert Zipper. It was nominated for an Oscar that same year.

Herbert Zipper died in 1997 in Santa Monica, California at the age of 92.


 Paul Cummins' Dachau Song: The 20th Century Odyssey of  Herbert Zipper. Is at the moment the only written biography of Herbert Zipper.

Frank Ephraim wrote a wonderful book entitled, Escape to Manila From Nazi Tyranny to Japanese Terror. It is a good source when dealing with the subject the "Manilaner". It dedicated two pages about Herbert Zipper. It is also interesting to note that Frank Ephraim mentioned that his mother sang in the choir with the MSO conducted by Zipper during a performance of Beethoven's Ode to Joy.

Benito J. Legerda Jr. - Occupation 42 and Occupation:The later years, two books that deals about the Japanese occupation provided me with new insight. It is also interesting to note that Benito J. Legarda's family were early patrons of the Manila Symphony Society and the MSO. In the book Occupation: The Later Years, one can find the photo of Zipper conducting the MSO in the half ruined Sta Cruz church...... Incredible indeed!

On Nazi history particularly about persecution of intellectuals in Nazi times, I cannot think of a better source but to mention "The Rise And Fall of the Third Reich, written by William L. Shirer. One can focus on book two, where the author dicussed the "Nazification of Germany"

 One can check on a link by Dr. Bonnie Harris websiteit is an outstanding study and it has eyewitness narrations  about the Jews of Manila. Thank you Dr. Harris!

Crossroads School in Santa Monica, California, one of the instutions where Herbert Zipper served  has a website lovingly dedicated to Herbert Zipper, (whom they fondly called Papa Z Please check it.

The story about some musicians of MSO being members of the guerilla movement was told to me by my violin teacher, Prof. Rizal V. Reyes, who also trained and performed under Herbert Zipper.


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