Benjamin Boleslaw Rogozinski was a Polish Jew who fled his home with his wife and two small children when the Germans invaded Poland in 1939. Arriving at the eastern border of Poland, he found that the Russians were compelling refugees to accept Russian citizenship. He refused to do so and the family was sent to Siberia as enemies of the regime.
On the journey to Siberia on a cargo train, Benjamin’s younger son fell ill; yet there were no provisions at all on the train, even for healthy people. The child grew weaker and weaker and finally, at a train stop, Benjamin jumped to the platform with the child in his arms. He landed in front of a wall of Russian soldiers pointing their guns at him, ordering him to return to the train. Benjamin replied that they could kill him if necessary, but they must find food and medicine for his sick child. His brazen act of defiance worked and this attitude became a hallmark of his entire life.
The family stayed in a forced labour camp in Siberia for two years (being sent to Kazakstan afterwards). During this time, the Russiansallowed the Polish army to be formed in the USSR to fight the Nazis alongside the Soviet Army. In 1942, Benjamin was drafted by the Stalin regime and enlisted in the “Kosciusko” division of this Polish army. He fought all the way from Smolensk to Berlin and was awarded 13 medals for bravery.
On the way to re-conquering Poland, Officer Rogozinski asked for a leave of absence and went to Lublin (the temporary capital of Poland). There, he located the office of the Ministry of Foreign Relations and — wearing his campaign uniform — went straight in to see the Minister, ignoring all the secretaries who tried to stop him. He saluted the Minister, put his gun on the table, and stated that he would only go on fighting and winning the war if the Minister promised that his family should be the first to return from exile in Kazakstan. The promise was made and the family was reunited in Moscow in May of 1945, in time to see the fireworks in Red Square on V-Day.
The Rogozinski’s spent a short time in Poland, but the climate seemed too hostile to them and they moved to Munich. There, Benjamin composed the symphony he called Ismus, referring to all the belief systems that had buffeted and shaped their lives, including Judaism, Nazism, Communism, anti-Semitism, Fascism, patriotism and Zionism. Ismus was inspired by the saga Benjamin had just lived and by the imminent creation of the state of Israel.
In his inimitable style, Benjamin did not know how to write music, but he played all the parts of his symphony on the piano and hired a professor from the local conservatory to write the score.
The symphony was performed and broadcast live in 1948 by the state radio orchestra (Radio Munich), then under American control. The broadcast honored the Jewish holiday of Passover, which celebrates the exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt into freedom, centuries earlier. The family has archival documentation of this Passover broadcast (newspaper reviews, etc.), but no audio recording exists.
In 1949 Benjamin moved his family to Brazil, where he had extended family, to create a new life. He died there in 1981. He has eight great grandchildren. His two sons live in Rio: Rudolf Tadeusz, born in 1933, is an accomplished sales representative who speaks five languages. Robert Michal, born in 1938, is an architect and so is his only son.
In 2006, Rudolf Rogozinski’s three children — two musicians and one film maker — started the process of rescuing their family legacy, Ismus. The original, hand-written manuscript has been scanned and transcribed into contemporary musical notation and a new revision is printed in full score.
On May 13, 2008 Symphony Ismus had its Brazilian premiere. It was performed by the Porto Alegre Symphonic Orchestra, conducted by Osman Gioia under artistic direction of Maestro Isaac Karabtchevsky. The “Concert for Peace” took place at the Israeli Union Synagogue in Rio Grande do Sul and celebrated the 60th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel. The audience of over 1,000 responded enthusiastically. In addition to this historic, second-ever performance of Symphony Ismus, the orchestra played the Brazilian and Israeli national anthems as well as the Midsummer Night’s Dream Suite by Felix Mendelssohn.
On October 29, 2008 at the Teatro de Santa Isabel in Recife, Maestro Gioia conducted the Recife Symphony Orchestra in the well received second Brazilian performance of Symphony Ismus.
Benjamin’s grandchildren hope to find orchestras in Europe, Israel, the United States and worldwide to play this compelling music and share its powerful message.
Polish: Bronze Cross of Merit, with swords