Hans Max Krieg was born in 1899 in Heynau, Silesia, to a family of Jewish leather workers. Music played an important role in the family home. At the age of six he played the piano and began composing two years later. As of 1923, Krieg worked as a choral accompanist, opera conductor and composer of theatre music at the leading theatres in Germany and Zürich and later he expanded his career in Breslau.
In April 1933, caricatures of Krieg appeared in Nazi magazines, leading to his immediate escape to the Netherlands with his family. It wasn't easy to build a new life in a foreign country. There was hardly any opportunity, certainly not as an opera conductor. Krieg knew he had to change course and took on everything to support his family.
During the war he participated in lectures about Jewish songs, organized by the Jewish Council's department of culture. In May 1943, the family was ordered to move to the Jewish quarter. One month later Krieg was arrested during a raid and shortly after that, the family was deported to Westerbork. In January 1944, the Krieg family was transported to the concentration camp Bergen-Belsen where they remained until their liberation.
Despite all the hardships, and against orders, he managed to cheer up fellow prisoners and children by singing Dutch and Hebrew folk songs together. Despite all the misery and personal losses, Krieg was determined to make something of his life as teacher, conductor, accompanist and musicologist, calling himself “a composer of Hebrew and Yiddish songs and music.”
Krieg depicted himself as a torn man, neither at home in Germany nor in Israel. But if ever he felt safe, it was in Amsterdam, behind the desk in his study, with his piano and extensive library. Here - apart from his early theatre music, cabaret songs and music for radio plays - he created an extensive oeuvre of works in all kinds of shape and genre, ranging from (children’s) songs to vocal compositions for solo voice, duets and choir with piano or orchestral accompaniment in German, French, Dutch, Hebrew and Yiddish, to works for piano, chamber music and melodrama.
On November 26, 1961, during a choral rehearsal, Krieg felt unwell, and he died on that same day of heart failure. A memorial concert took place in the Amsterdam Bach Hall on March 10, 1962.
Leo Smit Foundation