Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Joseph Birnholtz - July 28, 1982

Religious Life After the War

Um, where did you go to school for your--to be a cantor?

Well, I--like I said I was the youngest boy to a sing solo. They used to put me up on a chair, five-years-old, four-years-old in Częstochowa in Poland. And I used to study, which I have very good teachers--cantors. They used to give me lessons. I used to love singing, I used to go every night if they had a rehearsal and I didn't sing in the choir with father in the shul and to hear how they practiced, how they sing because that was my love for it.

Okay, but still...

And I, I studied and after I got out from lib...from Poland I studied in Germany because...

You studied opera but were...

I studied opera.

What were, what were...

And then I studied--when I came to Detroit I studied in Detroit and I gave many recitals. As a matter of fact I have here a program which I gave a recital in ???

So when did you become a cantor?

I became a cantor--my first job was in Livonia that we hired--we rented a church. We couldn't afford to build a synagogue, we, we covered all the crosses and all that. We had services in the basement. Oh, that was about twenty-five years ago, twenty-seven years ago.

All right, uh...

And then I got a position--a steady position for five years in a German synagogue in Greenfield. Gemilus Chasidim it was called, between Seven and Eight Mile.

Uh, do you uh, have you ever gotten together with friends to discuss uh, what it was like?

Many times when we get together with friends, no matter what we talk about, it always come back what we went through. This is something we'll never forget and we shouldn't forget.

Do you feel any reluctance to talk about it?

I do, I hate it. I get very--like right now I get very upset with it. I get very hysterical, I get very nervous and I like to forget, but uh, unfortunately I'll never forget it. I hate to talk to it about to my kids.

Have you ever talked about it with your kids?

My son mentioned to me when he heard once--of, course I told him some stories but he watched the Holocaust on television, which they didn't even tell a quarter of it. I mean, what I went through what you can't really tell a person. So he would mention many times he would like to record me.

Uh, the uh, this is going to be a hard question but uh, when you've seen the things you've seen and gone through it, do you have any trouble--I mean, you come back, you know, I mean, you not only survived but you remained Jewish but you have remained active as a cantor. Do you have any troubles with this in the belief?

No, I am proud to be Jewish and really God saved me because there were so many things that there were so many times to be shot--I don't know why I am--that God saved me. My sister tells me that my zeyde--my grandfather was a very rekhtfartik--very pious, very righteous man, see. I mean, there were a lot of people that would say that they were righteous, but I came back--I understand that I'm named after him that in this khayes--in that I am alive.

Uh, do...

Sure, when we were younger, when we stood on ??? in concentration camp, many times we would say, "Where is God?" We used to question those things. But naturally, there is a God, there's no question about it and uh, we can see it every day.

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