Wajner, Leon

This brief life of Leon Wajner comes from an album collection of his songs, Cantos de lucha y resurgimiento (Songs of Struggle and Resurrection). Summarized and translated from the Spanish by Lori Cahan-Simon.

Leon Wajner
Born in Lodz in 1898. Died, (Argentina?) 1979. Composer, conductor, performer, and educator. Wajner came from a family of cantors. He studied viola, conducting, at the State Conservatory in Warsaw. Between the years 1915 and 1939, he was a prize winning violist and toured Europe, taught singing and music in various schools, and directed various choirs and orchestras. He was musical director of the Polish Military Theater in Lublin, as well as acting as Minister of Religion and Culture.

He was called to service in the Polish army and was imprisoned by the Russians on September 17, 1939 and held in Rovno, Volinia. There Wajner organized various choruses, again touring throughout Russia, 1940-1944, ending in Biro Bidyan (an area set aside for a “Jewish Homeland” by the Russians.)

At the end of WWII, he was repatriated to Poland where he found not one member of his family alive. His wife and daughter ended their days in the Warsaw Ghetto. Eventually, he heard from some surviving relatives in Chile and Israel.

After the war, he took up his old occupations and began composing to honor and remember the heroes and those killed. He collaborated with Shmerke Kaczerginski to produce a collection of 96 songs of the Ghetto and of the Partisans entitled Undzer Gezang, 23 of which were Wajner’s compositions. He also published a musical setting for the poem by Wladyslaw Broniewski, “To the Jews of Poland”, dedicated to the heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, in the form of a cantata for soloists, chorus and orchestra. It was premiered on April 19, 1948, the 5th anniversary of the uprising, during the unveiling of the monument to those heroes in Warsaw in the presence of Jewish delgates from around the world. During this period he began a professional relationship with the singer Rivka Klinicki, who later became his wife. In 1948, they worked in Paris and Italy, teaching and concertizing.

In 1949, they moved to Buenos Aires. Wajner taught and conducted for many schools and organizations. He continued touring with his wife as singer throughout Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil. He also continued his composing, being prolific in his works in memory of the European Jewish communities, and turning toward the next generation with songs for children. Some later titles include: “Expresiones” for viola and piano; “Meditations on Jewish and Argentinian motifs”, fantasia for piano;and “Jewish Dance” for piano. Many articles were published about Wajner and Klinicki, from 1938 to 1962, in Europe, the U.S. and South America. Sadly, the pre-war compositions of Leon Wajner are lost.