A new Spring, a new sound: a concert in Holland, 1946

Lenteavond program cover, April 4, 1946

Maddi Bernstein (left) and her sister, my grandmother Thea, in Soest, Holland, August 16, 1946
Inside pages of the program

Inside pages of program


Amsterdam, 7 February 1947: Nearing the end of their time in Europe, Maddi (L) and Thea (R) flank their very good friend Johanna (Rie) de Hartog, who would, with her husband John, soon accompany them on the S.S. Veendam of the Holland America Line on their journey to the USA, where they would shape new lives.

On April 4, 1946, my great-aunt Maddi Bernstein, a concert pianist, played in a “Lenteavond” (Spring Evening) concert in Soest, Holland, along with her friends Miep Quelle and Mien van der Ploeg. Maddi, who less than a year previously had been a prisoner at the Theresienstadt concentration camp in what is now the Czech Republic, was 43 years old at the time. Discovered in hiding in Holland with her husband Henry and son Rolf, she had been interned with them in Westerbork and then Theresienstadt, before Rolf and Henry had been sent to Auschwitz in October 1944 and promptly murdered. Maddi alone survived. In July 1945 she had shown up at the home of the Blankensteins, from where she had been taken, and reunited with her sister Thea and her nephew, my father. I can’t imagine what must have been going through her mind that evening, as the trio played through an extensive evening of Schumann and Schubert (Maddi loved the Romantic era in classical music; she would have gotten along well with my wife Donna, a big fan of German lieder) and a variety of Dutch composers. [Click on the images and photo to enlarge; click twice to really enlarge.]

Miep Quelle (1922-2000), incidentally (as my friend Thea in Holland informs me), was a journalist for many years for the Dutch newspaper Trouw, which had began as an illegal underground paper during the war, writing under the name Mink van Rijswijk. She also wrote several books.

A little over a year later, Maddi would sail to New York along with her sister, nephew and an orphaned niece; by the early 1950s she would move to Waupun, Wisconsin. She played occasional concerts in the Waupun area before arthritis took away her ability to play the way she wanted to; she would keep her baby grand piano with her to the end of her life. I’m sorry that I never had the chance to hear her play.

The program reads:


A new Spring…

A new sound.

on Thursday, April 4, 1946 in “Eltheto,” Driftje (Soest), at exactly 8:00 p.m.

The Eltheto building, long since torn down, was a church building frequently used as a cultural and community center. There were a couple of complimentary notices in the local press. It was a beautiful evening, one review stated, and at the end the trio graciously received well-deserved floral bouquets. A new spring, indeed.

Reviews of the Soest concert in the local press

Notices of Maddi Bernstein’s concerts in Wisconsin (undated, likely early 1950s)


2 responses to “A new Spring, a new sound: a concert in Holland, 1946

  1. Wes,

    My name is John de Hartog and as a young man I was the beneficiary of many kindnesses bestowed by Maddi and Thea. Maddi lived with my grandmother, Johanna Maria de Hartog (Rie) for many years and it was always a special event when Maddi or Thea would come from New York for a visit or a season. The baby grand will always stay in my memory, but not Maddi’s playing of the instrument as arthritis prevented her playing to her own standard.. My wife, Karen, also plays piano and was reluctant to play for Maddi as she felt she lacked the necessary intensity. We are truly thankful for your blog entry as it filled in many of the gaps never discussed in my presence. Should you have any further information regarding the close relationship between Maddi and Rie, I would be appreciative. Grand ladies, all.

    John d.

  2. Thanks so much, John. I’m glad there are others who remember! I’ve added another photo to the post showing Maddi, Thea, and your grandmother on a wintry Amsterdam street in 1947. I don’t believe I ever met Rie, but I know she was held in high regard in Waupun as a longtime librarian and tireless organizer of community activities. When not visiting with her, Maddi and my grandmother carried out a constant correspondence with Rie to the end of their lives and I know the friendship must have been a great comfort to Maddi in particular, after all the horrors she endured during the war. All best to you.

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