Henry Wolfgang Meyer was born Heinz Wolfgang Meyer to Harry Herbert Meyer and Johanna Schifter Meyer. He was born on 29th of June 1923 in Dresden, Germany. Henry’s maternal grandparts came from Romania and settled near Dresden where they had a department store. The one store grew to three and Henry grew up in an upper middle class household. Henry’s younger brother, by two years, Fritz and he were given a well rounded education and when it was discovered that both boys were musically gifted they were given lessons.
Henry left Germany in 1937 to study music in Prague, which he greatly enjoyed. He returned in Germany the first week of November, 1937 because he was engaged to play a concert in his hometown on November 9th. The concert never occurred because gentile neighbors warned Henry’s father that there was to be a spontaneous uprising and that he should make himself scarce. When the Gestapo arrived to arrest his father, Henry was arrested in his place and sent to Buchenwald. Henry was released soon after because his parents started the procedure to immigrate but they quickly learned that the entire family would not be allowed to leave and they chose to remain in Dresden.
Henry and his brother went to Berlin to study music privately. As things worsened for the Jews Fritz decided to move back to Dresden to be with their parents, and Henry was drafted to the war effort for Germany. After spending some time working in a factory, which was very hard work, Henry decided to go back to Dresden. He was immediately imprisoned when he arrived, as was his half gentile girlfriend. He was removed from prison to work but then the first wave of deportations began and his parents were deported to Riga, Latvia. Henry’s mother worked in the officers’ barrack but died from a heart attack. Henry’s father was transferred from Riga all over Germany and ended in Dauchau were he died about two months before the camp was liberated.
Henry and his brother Fritz continued to live in Dresden as conditions worsened. The Gestapo regularly visited them and moved them from place to place. The last place they were moved was closer to the factory where they were forced laborers in the Zeiss-Ikon factory. When the factory was closed down they were rounded up and shipped in cattle cars to Auschwitz. When they arrived they were selected to go to Buna, the labor camp, where they worked for IG Farm in the factory. Fritz got dysentery a few days after they arrived, and a few days later Henry arrived back from the factory to find that his brother was gone.
Henry became sick a while later and was sent to the prison doctor, also a Jew. Henry expected that soon he would be sent to the gas chamber. After a conversation with the doctor, where Henry and the doctor realized that the doctor had heard Henry play, the doctor exchanged Henry’s identity and that of a patient who had died. The doctor helped Henry get better in secret and got him a job as a janitor in the barracks of the SS. Henry shined the shoes and made the bed for Dr. Mengele.
Henry was next sent to Birkenau where he managed to convince the Nazis that he was a talented cymbalist (even though all of his training was with the violin), and he was allowed to join the camp band. It was because of his position in the band that Henry managed to survive the war.
Henry emigrated to the U.S. in 1948. He won scholarships to study at Juilliard. He was a founding member of the LaSalle Quartet, the first quartet-in-residence at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. Along with performing in the LaSalle Quartet on 60 international tours, they recorded for Deutsche Grammophon, earning awards including the Grand Prix du Disque and two Grammy nominations. Henry taught for many years and only stopped three years prior to his death in 2006 after being put in a wheelchair from a hit-and-run accident that occurred outside Music Hall in Cincinnati.
Meyer was the first recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award of the American Classical Music Hall of Fame. In 1993, he received the A.B. (Dolly) Cohen Award for Excellence in Teaching at the University of Cincinnati.
More about Henry Meyer can be found in the archives of the Center for Holocaust and Humanity Education, as well as at the following links:
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum