Alexis Weissenberg | French pianist, 82

Alexis Weissenberg fled a WWII camp with aid from a German guard who liked his music.
Alexis Weissenberg fled a WWII camp with aid from a German guard who liked his music. (Associated Press)
Posted: January 12, 2012

Bulgarian-born French pianist Alexis Weissenberg, 82, whose love of music saved him and his mother from a World War II concentration camp and carried him to performances with Herbert von Karajan and Leonard Bernstein, has died.

Bulgaria's Ministry of Culture on Monday confirmed the death of Mr. Weissenberg, who was born into a Jewish family in the capital, Sofia, but spent most of his life abroad and became a French citizen.

An only child, Mr. Weissenberg recalled sharing "musical joys" learning piano and listening to recordings and concerts with his mother, before studying piano with a famous Bulgarian composer, Pancho Vladigerov.

When he and his mother tried to flee German-occupied Bulgaria for Turkey with faked ID and visa papers in 1941, he recalled in an essay on his website, they landed in "an improvised concentration camp" in Bulgaria for people crossing the border illegally. He said the German-guarded camp was probably intended to send people to Poland - and extermination.

They were lucky: After three months in the unspecified camp, a German guard who enjoyed listening to him play Schubert on the accordion helped them escape by train. The next day, they arrived in Istanbul.

They wound up in Israel, where he performed Beethoven with the Israel Philharmonic led by Leonard Bernstein. After the war, he moved to New York to study at the Juilliard School. In the 1950s, he moved to Paris and became a French citizen. - AP

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