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Early life

Heinrich Haftel was born in Lvov, Ukraine (formerly Russia, also known as Lemberg; Leopolis). He lived with his parents David Israel Kornbluh (2 May 1880, Bolechow, Russia – 23rd June 1940) and Beile Leie Kornbluh (known as Laura) nee Diamant (10th December 1890 – 10th August 1976). He had one sister Charlotte (18th June 1909 – 17th December 2006).

His parents married in Lvov on 18th December 1907 and are believed to have moved to Vienna when Haftel was an infant, at a time when Jews were being offered equal opportunities in Austria. It is thought that they changed their name to Haftel at this time to become more Austrian sounding.

The Haftel family owned a fur shop and lived in 1 Borsegasse, Vienna.

  • Henry Haftel

    House in Vienna

  • Zvi Henry Haftel
  • Zvi Henry Haftel
Henry Haftel Career

Early Musical Career

At the age of 6 years old, Haftel and his sister were taught to play the piano by their mother but he subsequently changed to the violin. He was a child prodigy and soon became a distinguished student at the Vienna Musical Academy. He performed as a soloist in Spain at the age of 11 years old with Pablo Casals conducting & at 13 years old appeared with his sister in a concert in Copenhagen. At 15 years old, he moved to Budapest to study under Jeno Hubay where he became acquainted with violinists such as Aden Partush, Laiza and Lorend Pnibash. He then studied under Karl Flesch in Berlin before returning to Vienna to become a pupil of Bronislaw Huberman.

Palestine Symphony Orchestra

Israel Philharmonic Orchestra

In 1936, Bronislaw Huberman recruited 75 musicians and their families from across Europe to found the Palestine Symphony Orchestra showing the “presence of mind to realise that far more than a new job was at stake for these artists.” He is credited with saving nearly 1000 people who may have died had they remained in countries including Poland, Hungary, Germany, Austria and Holland. Huberman worked tirelessly to obtain permits which were hard to obtain under the British mandate. 

Many musicians, including Haftel, arrived in Haifa on 2nd November 1936 by boat from Trieste via Constantinople. They then travelled by bus to Tel Aviv. Early rehearsals were difficult as these artists shared no common language and were not from orchestral backgrounds many being virtuosos or soloists.

Haftel was invited by his teacher Huberman to join the orchestra but not to expect any special favours and was placed as leader of the second violin section for their first concert. Huberman invited the greatest conductor of the time, Arturo Toscanini, to conduct the opening concert, performed at the Levant Fair in Tel Aviv on 26 December 1936. Toscanini abandoned his renowned NBC Orchestra for several weeks “to render paternal care to the newly born…” The great Maestro, who had previously escaped the rise of Fascism in his homeland of Italy, said: “I am doing this for humanity…”

Toscanini is said to have spotted Haftel’s talent and recommended that Haftel be appointed as concertmaster - a position he held until 1968.

The 2012 documentary “Orchestra of Exiles” documents the creation of the orchestra and includes interviews with regard to Haftel’s involvement from his daughter Mira Ross. The film also reveals how famous Jews such as Albert Einstein were fundamental in the creation of the orchestra.

The orchestra’s attempt to integrate into the Middle East led to tours in Egypt in 1940-43 (with Huberman as soloist), conducted by Toscanini and Molinari. During World War II, it appeared in a concert before Allied Forces in the Western Desert for soldiers of the Jewish Brigade, conducted by Joseph Kaminski.

  • Palestine Symphony Orchestra Einstein Support For Orchestra
  • Einstein Support For Orchestra

Israel Philharmonic Orchestra

  • The orchestra was formed in 1936
  • After their first concert on 26th December 1936, Henry was appointed leader and concertmaster - a position he held until 1968
  • Many famous Jewish people helped to support the orchestra Including Albert Einstein
  • The orchestra rehearsals were difficult because the musicians all spoke many different languages and came from many different cultural backgrounds. Many of the musicians were not used to playing in an orchestra as they were virtuoso soloists in their own rights.
Live Permit

Letter from british government in palestine saying that. Henry Had a permit live in palestine