Tribute to the pipers of Bergen-Belsen


Regular readers may recall our story last July about Branko Lustig. As a 10-year-old boy, Branko, a Croatian Jew, had been imprisoned at Auschwitz and later at Bergen-Belsen during the Second World War. Branko went on to have a successful career in the movie industry and, in fact, in 1994 produced Steven Spielberg’s holocaust epic, Schindler’s List.

In later years, Branko recounted the moment British troops liberated Bergen-Belsen:

He added subsequently: “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.”

Branko Lustig.

Our thanks went to Bob Shlaer and Bruce Hitchings MBE BEM for the story. Mr Shlaer, of Santa Fe, New Mexico, is now appealing to pipers around the world to pay their own personal tribute to Branko and his fellow inmates as well as to the liberating British Army.

The date for the tribute is April 15. Mr Shlaer said: “I am extending an invitation to the worldwide piping community to join in an event (individually so as to avoid close contact) marking the anniversary of the liberation of Bergen-Belsen. 

“I imagine that each participant would choose a location where they will play any tune or tunes they wish, for as much or as little time as they desire, at any time of the day on April 15 next – and again on that date each following year.

“If their performance evokes any questions from bystanders, simply explain to them the meaning of the sounds on that day. The story will whet the appetite of those far removed in time and space from this horror of WWII, and draw us to participate through some small but meaningful act in reinvigorating its memory.

Bob Shlaer.

“That Branko Lustig mistook the pipes for angels playing must be a source of gratification to us all.”

Bergen-Belsen was liberated by 11 Division but 15 Scottish Division (with battalions from virtually every Scottish infantry regiment) passed the gate the same day on their way to capture Celle just down the road, and they provided logistic support to 11 Division in the recovery task. It could have been pipers from any of them that Mr Lustig heard. Also, it is virtually impossible to identify the tunes he would’ve heard. It may have been a cacophony of many tunes. Seemingly, John Millin, son of the famous D-Day piper, Bill Millin was among the pipers that day.

Mr Shlaer added: “This is a simple way of recognising this unique, but until now largely ignored, event in the drama of WWII and I invite pipers to join me on April 15 day, selecting and performing any piece or pieces they might wish, in whatever location they might choose, at whatever time of day they prefer, for however long they can manage.”

We cannot imagine the pipers would have been able to play for long on that horrific day, given the putrid atmosphere of decaying corpses permeating the camp. One tune might have been all they could manage before gagging.

As Mr Shlaer suggests, pipers are free to play and tunes of their choosing. We would suggest, however, given some of the regiments that took part in the liberating of the camp, that Highland Laddie, Cock of The North and All the Blue Bonnets Are Over the Border would be suitable.

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With restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic planned to be gradually eased around the world in the coming weeks and months, pipers in Ontario, Canada have a series of solo competitions earmarked.

The Pipers and Pipe Band Society of Ontario plans to augment any prospective outdoor contests that may transpire with online events.

Click here for more information.

In light of the outright cancellation of this year’s Pipe Major Donald MacLeod MBE Memorial Solo Pipng Competition, an online ceilidh will instead be held.

The Lewis & Harris Piping Society is hosting this unique event on April 2 at 19:00pm GMT. It will be premiered on the Society’s Facebook page and on its own YouTube channel.

Eight of solo piping’s leading names can be heard performing: Stuart Liddell, Iain Spiers, Niall Stewart, Connor Sinclair, Willie McCallum, Sarah Muir, Angus MacColl and Gordon McCready.

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The Balmoral School of Piping & Drumming, founded in 1979 by George Balderose and the late James McIntosh MBE in Pennsylvania, USA, has announced details of its 2021 summer school.

The school takes place – online – in July 18-23. The piping instructors will be Roddy MacLeod MBE, Bruce Gandy, Robert Mathieson and Andrew Carlisle.

Click here for full details.