Joseph Schmidt

Tenor and actor Joseph Schmidt was born in March 1904 in the Austro-Hungarian village of Davideny, which became part of Romania after WW1 and is now in Ukraine.


His mother encouraged him into a career in music despite objections from his farm-worker father.

He began singing at the Czernowitz Synagogue and by the age of 20 had featured in his first solo recital, performing the works of Verdi, Puccini, Rossini and Bizet alongside traditional Jewish songs.

In 1928 his uncle, Leo Engel, encouraged him to come to Berlin and his concert career began to flourish. He had also become an accomplished pianist .

He soon found that his diminutive stature – he was just 1.5 metres tall – effectively barred him from performing opera on stage but his voice was in great demand both on the radio and on recordings.


By 1930, he was living at Nürnberger Strasse 68 in the west of the city, opposite the famous Eden Hotel and overlooking the Elephant Gate of Berlin Zoo.

Over the next 6 years he appeared in 9 films and made numerous recordings for Ultraphone and Parlaphone, and in 1937 undertook a tour of the United States culminating in an appearance at the Carnegie Hall.

Under the National Socialist regime, restrictions on Jewish artists and performers were becoming increasingly harsh and he concentrated on touring in Belgium and the Netherlands where he was extremely popular.


When war broke out in 1939 he fled initially to France and then onto Switzerland, arriving penniless and in poor health. Despite being well-known and in possession of a US visa, he was interned in a camp for illegal immigrants at Girenbad, close to Zurich.

His health continued to deteriorate and despite his complaints of a throat infection and chest pains, medical attention was almost non-existent.

He died on November 16th 1942, aged 38.

In defiance of authority, all 350 inmates of the camp attended his funeral.


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One Response to Joseph Schmidt

  1. Hels says:

    Thank you. It is not often you hear of one young man being talented in acting, singing, piano, films, opera, recordings etc. What a terrible loss when Joseph Schmidt died so young.

    Next time the students are studying Belle Epoque centres of cultural excellence, including Berlin, I will refer back to Schmidt.

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