Branko Lustig / VJ Day / PPBSO webinars

Branko Lustig.

We are grateful to Bruce Hitchings MBE BEM, Kirknewton, Scotland and to Bob Shlaer of Santa Fe, New Mexico, for the following story. Last November, Bob read an obituary that appeared in American newspaper, The Week. The deceased was Branko Lustig (87) who, as a 10-year-old Croatian Jew, had been imprisoned at Auschwitz. The obituary describes how one day the youngster was ordered to stand in the front row at a hanging.

The lad watched as seven inmates were brought to the gallows and, moments before the bench was kicked out from under them, shouted in Yiddish, “Remember how we died! Tell the story about us!”

Lustig would do just that. Years after his liberation in 1945, he embarked on a career in film that eventually too him to Hollywood. There, in 1994, he shared the Best Picture Oscar for producing Steven Spielberg’s holocaust epic, Schindler’s List. Lustig died on November 13 in Zagreb, Croatia of heart failure.

Interestingly, Lustig’s obituary contains the following: “When British troops liberated Bergen-Belsen, where he had been transferred form Auschwitz, Lustig heard the sound of bagpipesand concluded he was dead. The music, he recalled thinking, must have been angels playing.”

Lustig retold the story more fully in 2014: “I was very sick. I had typhoid, and then in one moment, I heard music. I hadn’t heard music for a long time. I was delirious, thinking, ‘I’m in heaven finally, and these are angels playing,’ because never before [had] I heard Scottish music, bagpipes, and the British troops entered Bergen-Belsen with bagpipes.”

On April 15, Mr Shlaer played a personal tribute to Branko and his fellow inmates as well as to the liberating British Army. He is recruiting other pipers to do the same next year. However, Mr Shlaer has no idea of who the Army piper, or pipers, might have been back then, and what they perhaps played. He tells us: “I’ve spent a good deal of time doing internet research, but have come up blank. The Imperial War Museums have an archive of oral histories from people who were, many have been transcribed, but nowhere is there a reference to the pipes.

“Lt-Colonel Leonard Berney wrote a book about liberating the camp. He was a member of the General Staff of the British Army XIII Corps, and apparently was the commander on the ground when the British troops entered the camp. … but nowhere in his book is there a mention of piping.

Bob Shlaer.

“According to Berney’s account another officer who was there was Lt-Colonel Taylor, the CO of the 63rd Anti-Tank Regiment which was charged with taking over the camp, but about him I can find nothing either.

“Could there be an archive in Scotland relating to the pipers who were assigned to the XIII Corps at the time, and what they might have played on such an occasion?”

What an amazing story on the effect of the bagpipes, and we wonder if there is indeed such an archive or record of those pipers? Can any of our readers with interests in Army piping possibly help?

If anyone can help Mr Shlaer please contact us in the first instance and we will pass on to him the information and contact details.

Pipers registering to participate in next month’s 75th anniversary of Victory over Japan (VJ) Day should note a slight change to the timing of the event.

Organisers say the UK’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has requested pipers play at 06:00 – their time – rather than sunrise.

The tribute is on August 15, which would have been the Saturday of the World Pipe Band Championships. Spokesman, Robert Proctor, said: “With the Worlds not taking place this year we hope to capture people’s imaginations with this tribute to the surviving veterans. We’re asking pipers to once again play When the Battle’s Over at a safe location of their choice on the dawn of the day 75 years after the Second World War came to an end.

“Many pipers around the world recently marked the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe (VE) Day, making a positive impact on their communities during a period of isolation. Let us come together once again in recognition of the sacrifices these often forgotten veterans made in this bloody conflict as their numbers continue to fade.”

Register at

August 15 is the official VJ Day for the UK, while the official US commemoration is September 2. It is the day on which Imperial Japan surrendered in World War II, in effect bringing the war to an end. The surrender document was signed on September 2, 1945, officially ending the war.

Following on from the webinars with Finlay MacDonald and Tyler Bridge that were held last month by the Pipers and Pipe Band Society of Ontario (PPBSO), the organisation has three more webinars lined up for this month.

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They are:

  • Saturday, July 11 – Bob Worrall
  • Tuesday, July 14 – Andrew Lawson  
  • Saturday, July 18 – Bill Livingstone

Click HERE to register to take part.