“The performance of Grete Minde represents all of the creativity that was destroyed by the Nazis” – Jan Agee (Granddaughter of Eugen Engel)
In the California home of Janice Agee stands a beautiful, darkened wooden upright piano: a silent artefact steeped in sadness, love, and care. It had been purchased some years earlier by her mother who, having fled the Nazi occupied Netherlands, anticipated that her father Eugen would join her, and pursue his musical interests in safety. Tragically, Eugen would never get to play the piano, nor make it to freedom. In early 1943, Eugen Engel was deported to Westerbork transit camp. He then arrived in a mass transport to the Sobibór death camp where he was murdered three days later. Remarkably, his daughter Eva (Lowen nee Löwenberger), had managed to carry her father's compositions to the US, but it was only after her death in 2006 that her children took on revisiting this incredible body of work in detail, as set aside in a trunk in Jan’s basement. In addition to documents, letters, and manuscripts of smaller compositions, they found a large-format score and a piano reduction - the sheet music of the opera "Grete Minde".
Following Jan Agee’s initiative to install a local Stolperstein for her relatives, Anna Skryleva, the music director of the Theatre Magdeburg in Berlin, discovered Engel’s unseen opera, and was able to look through the piano excerpt. As a result, "Grete Minde" was performed for the first time in February 2022, almost 90 years after its completion and almost 80 years after the death of its creator. The following article illuminates the amazing story of how this private, family archive has informed cultural memory through public performance, whilst commemorating the life and works of its creator Eugen Engel. It also includes a recorded discussion between Eugen’s granddaughter Jan Agee, Ulrike Schröder of Theatre Magdeburg, and Hannah Wilson (Content Director, Music & the Holocaust).
This article is inspired by the extensive research into the biography of Eugen Engel by Ulrike Schröder.