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'Survival through song': Saul Dreier, of Holocaust Survivor Band, to perform at UNC

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Saul Dreier will perform with a local band at the Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture on Tuesday, Nov. 28.

Laying on a three-level bunk of the barracks in a German concentration camp during World War II, 16-year-old Saul Dreier banged his wooden soup spoon, creating a beat to a fellow prisoner’s song.

Dreier then climbed down the bunks with his wooden spoon to drum and sing along. Prisoners sang evening after evening.

This was just the beginning of Dreier’s percussion career. Over 60 years later, he formed the Holocaust Survivor Band – composed of fellow Holocaust survivors and their children to spread joy and combat antisemitism.

On Nov. 28 at 7 p.m., Dreier will perform with a local band at the Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History at an event titled “Survival Through Song.” Before the performance, Dreier will speak about his life story, and the performance will be followed by a question-and-answer segment.

Dreier performs klezmer music, or Jewish folk music. He describes his performance style as “happy music.” The Holocaust Survivor Band performs at cities across the United States and across the world.

"To see someone muster up the courage to respond through joy, it's just a ray of light that we desperately need," Zalman Bluming, the rabbi of Chabad of Durham/Chapel Hill, said.

Dreier grew up in Krakow, Poland, and started playing music from a young age. His father was a musician and played several instruments, and he bought Dreier a clarinet when he was 9 years old.

But in 1939, when Germany invaded Poland and World War II began, 14-year-old Dreier gave up music entirely.

“When the war started, the show was over,” he said. “Everything was upside down.”

At the beginning of the war, Dreier was forced into a ghetto and was then taken to Płaszów concentration camp. About a year later, he was brought to Oskar Schindler’s factory in Krakow. As the Soviet army approached Krakow, Schindler sent Dreier and several hundred Jews to Mauthausen concentration camp where Dreier worked as a welder until he was liberated by the U.S. Army.

After the war, Dreier was sent to a displaced persons camp in Italy. There, the survivors gathered to sing and dance, and Dreier volunteered to play the drums. He taught himself how to play for dances and gatherings at the camp, but after leaving Italy to come to the United States in 1949, he did not pick up drumsticks again until decades later.

One morning in 2014, Dreier opened his computer in his Florida residence and read that Holocaust survivor and pianist Alice Herz-Sommer had passed away at the age of 110. 

Herz-Sommer was spared her life during the war due to her piano skills, where her music was incorporated into Nazi propaganda. After the war, she continued to play and perform, and her story inspired Dreier to start a band. 

Both Dreier’s wife and his rabbi called him crazy for wanting to embark on such an endeavor at his old age. But, that didn’t stop the then-89-year-old Dreier from driving to a music store and purchasing a new set of drums. He said even the manager of the store looked at him like he was crazy. 

Dreier drove home with the drums strapped to the top of his Lexus, and the Holocaust Survivor Band began.

“Part of the way that Saul’s music inspires people, especially in today's world, is the fact that here's a gentleman who's 98 years old, almost 99, survived the Holocaust, and has survived a bunch of trials and tribulations throughout his life even after that,” Cliff Gabay, a friend of Dreier’s, said.

Bluming said the performance will be “a celebration of life.”

“You’re watching a relic of history, you’re walking into a living museum,” he said.

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com

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