Renowned musician, conductor and music teacher Boruch Kaluszyner was born in 1911 in Lodz, Poland, to an Orthodox family who made their living running a textile weaving business from their home. Boruch too worked as a weaver, and became involved in the Bund socialist labor movement, initially through the Tzukunft youth wing, where he met his future wife, Itta Waks.
Music, however, was always Boruch’s driving force. He began playing clarinet in the Bund orchestra as a teenager, and soon became known as a talented musician.
In late 1939, after the German occupation of Poland, Boruch escaped to the Soviet Union with his wife and their young daughter, Chana. The family was initially sent to Chelyabinsk in the Ural Mountains, where Boruch and Itta were sent to work in a Soviet munitions factory. In addition, Boruch played with a local orchestra, which enabled him to get extra food rations. In mid-1941, after war was declared between Germany and the Soviet Union, Boruch and other men were sent to a labor camp in Kazakhstan, while the women and children were sent to a kolhoz (a working collective). Boruch spent several years in the labor camp and was reunited with his family in Chelyabinsk, only toward the end of the war.
The family arrived back in Poland in early 1946 and were first settled in the town of Dzierzoniow. From there Boruch went on his own to Lodz to find employment and housing, and to search for family and friends. That search proved fruitless: Boruch’s parents, his married sister with her husband and young son, his teenage younger sister, and many other relatives had all perished in the Lodz Ghetto.
Boruch was eventually joined by his wife and daughter in Lodz, which became the heart of the decimated Jewish community in post-war Poland, with Jewish schools, youth movements, religious congregations, and political organisations. Boruch and two other men formed a textile cooperative, and he became its director. At the same time, he organised and ran a brass orchestra for Jewish youth.
With Soviet repression tightening its hold on Poland, Boruch and his family intended to leave, but their plan was thwarted when Itta fell ill just before the Communist government closed the borders in 1948. The family continued to live in Lodz under the Communist regime, with Boruch working as the textile cooperative’s director by day and studying by night at the Lodz music conservatorium to become a conductor. He also organized and conducted a 48-piece mixed Jewish and non-Jewish brass orchestra that traveled around Poland giving concerts. The orchestra won numerous prizes and had the honor of leading the annual May Day parades in Lodz.
In 1957, after the borders were reopened, the family emigrated to Paris, and from there to Melbourne, arriving in April 1960.
In Melbourne, Boruch quickly became known as a dedicated music teacher, music arranger, composer and choir conductor. He taught music at the two Yiddish schools, Sholem Aleichem and I.L. Peretz, and organized a children’s choir that performed at many community functions, including the schools’ Third Seder nights. He also directed and conducted the adult Hazomir Choir for many years, arranging music for it and guiding its performances in Hebrew, Yiddish and English at numerous Jewish community events. In addition, he taught music privately to individual students, including international opera singer Rachel Gettler, and arranged musical scores for communal events, including several David Herman Yiddish Theatre productions and the St Kilda Synagogue. He also created new arrangements for existing Yiddish and Hebrew songs and wrote original music for Yiddish and Hebrew lyrics and poems, including a number of works by the New York poet Elchanan Indelman.
Boruch Kaluszyner contributed tirelessly to the musical arts in the Melbourne Jewish community and helped to develop a love and understanding of the key elements of Yiddish music and folk songs in his students. Tragically, his life was cut short by a car accident on January 3, 1974. Boruch was survived by his wife, daughter, and two granddaughters.
Following his death, the Boruch Kaluszyner Memorial Committee was established and published “The Boruch Kaluszyner Book of Songs”, and an annual children’s music festival was created in his honor and ran for many years. In addition, the Sholem Aleichem school established the annual Boruch Kaluszyner prize for music achievement, which continues to be awarded to students every year.
Sources: Interview with Anna (Chana) Hearsch, daughter of Boruch Kaluszyner; The Boruch Kaluszyner Book of Songs, published by the Boruch Kaluszyner Memorial Committee, Melbourne, 1974; Yiddish obituary by Gedaliah Shaiak in The Australian Jewish News 1 Feb 1974; A Celebration of Yiddish published by the Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation, Monash University, 16 October 2004; Arnold Zable, Wanderers and Dreamers: Tales of the David Herman Theatre, Hyland House, Melbourne, 1998.