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Joseph Schmidt

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Biography

Joseph Schmidt (March 4, 1904 – November 16, 1942) was a Jewish Romanian tenor and actor. He was born in Davideny village of Storozhynets district in the Bukovina province of Austria-Hungary, later Romania and now part of Ukraine.

In addition to German, which was his first language, and Yiddish, he learned Hebrew and became fluent in Romanian, French and English. His first vocal training was as an alto boy in the Czernowitz Synagogue. His talents were quickly recognised and by 1924 he was featured in his first solo recital in Czernowitz singing traditional Jewish songs and arias by Verdi, Puccini, Rossini and Bizet. Soon he moved to Berlin and took piano and singing lessons from Professor Hermann Weissenborn at the Königliche Musikschule. He returned to Romania for his military service and became cantor of the Czernowitz synagogue.

In 1929 he went back to Berlin, where Cornelis Bronsgeest, a famous Dutch baritone, engaged him for a radio broadcast as Vasco da Gama in Meyerbeer’s L’Africaine. This was the beginning of a successful international career. Owing to his diminutive stature (he was just over 1.5 m) a stage career was impossible; however his voice was extremely well suited for radio. He made many records, first for Ultraphone, then for Odeon/Parlophone, was featured in many radio broadcasts and acted in several movies in both German and English.

Ironically, Joseph Schmidt enjoyed his greatest successes during the rise of the German Nazis, who subsequently prohibited Jewish artists and writers from working.

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