Saul Drier brings the beat to the Holocaust Survivor Band

Photos by Eduardo Schneider


Saul Drier’s mobile phone rings a lot. At 94, he’s sitting in an office in his apartment in Wynmoor. He’s a busy man, fielding calls from a summer camp in Wisconsin that wants to plan an upcoming performance for his band, and other calls about bookings everywhere, from Pennsylvania to Poland.

Since he had the idea for the Holocaust Survivor Band in 2014, Drier has been featured in the New York Times, played in Las Vegas and Washington, D.C.’s Kennedy Center. The band, which is made up of Holocaust survivors and children of survivors, was the first group to play outside the entrance of the former concentration camp in Auschwitz in southern Poland, in front of the infamous wrought iron “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign.

Guitar player Jeff Black, 68 (whose parents were able to escape), was with him, as well as two of the original band members Reuwen “Ruby” Sosnowicz (a survivor) on keyboard and accordion, and Sosnowicz’s daughter, Chana Rose Sosnowicz, a percussionist.

“Do you know what the words mean?” Black asks. “‘Work makes you free.’ ”

Drier, who’s dressed like an aging rock star in his dark button-down shirt, black slim pants, and pointed, leather boots, sits behind his drum set in the middle of his living room. He attaches his mobile phone to a small speaker, then hits a button. The traditional Jewish celebration song “Hava Nagila” begins to play. He drums along with it, and not quietly. Do his neighbors mind the racket? “No,” he says. “They are all deaf.” He laughs.

He remembers the first time he played drums. “Well, it’s a whole story. You want to hear it?” Drier tells it as if it were yesterday. “When [World War II] started, I was 15 years old. My parents perished in the Holocaust.”

He was in concentration camps for four years, laboring in a factory repairing radiators for airplanes. After he was liberated from a concentration camp in Linz, Austria, by the U.S. Army at age 19 in 1945, he was taken to southern Italy.

“I ended up in a Displaced Persons camp. We had nothing to do, but the Italian people would let us go into this hall,” he says. “We wanted to sing and dance, but there was nothing in there. It was empty.”

One day, a truck arrived with a piano and a set of drums. “They put the instruments in this hall. One night when we were all gathered there, the director of the [camp] asks, ‘Who wants to play the piano?’” He remembers a man from Yugoslavia raised his hand. “No one wanted to play the drums, so I volunteered. You have to understand that in the concentration camp, people were singing. I had put two spoons together and was keeping the beat. That’s how I started.”

But as things happen and life went on, Drier gave up the drums. He came to the United States when he was 24. “I went to work right away in Brooklyn, then I moved to New Jersey, where I had a friend. I was building homes. Then I got married and had four children.” He moved to Florida in 1980 with his wife, Clara. “She took sick in New Jersey and wanted to come here.”

In 2014, he read an article about the death of Alice Herz-Sommer, a 110-year-old Holocaust survivor in England. She had survived her time in the camps by playing piano in concerts the Nazis arranged. They were making movies of the concerts to create the idea that the prisoners were being treated well, and the orchestras would entertain guards.

“I want to do something for her,” Drier remembers thinking. “I’m going to put together a band, I told my wife, Clara.’ She told me I was crazy.”

That was on a Thursday. On Saturday, he was sitting next to his rabbi at lunch and he couldn’t shake the idea.

“He says to me, ‘Sal, you are 15 years retired. What do you want to do this for?’ ”

By Monday morning, Drier had gone to a music store and purchased a drum set. He gathered some musicians together and asked the rabbi if he could play in the temple’s hall. The rabbi gave him his blessing, but wondered how he would get people to come and see the band. “If we play for nothing, everyone will show up.”

The Holocaust Survivor Band was a hit. “From there, we took off like a rocket,” Drier says.

Black, who lives in Hollywood, says that the mission of the band is to keep klezmer music alive but also to get a message out: “That despite what Saul and the others went through, they keep on going and are still as vibrant as ever.”

You May Also Like

Picturing Fame

It was the era of La Belle Époque in late 19th century Paris, a “Beautiful Age” of more than just peace, prosperity and technological advances. The cultural scene had exploded, giving artists, authors, poets, actors, singers and dancers an inspired, vibrant atmosphere in which to showcase their talent. But it took more than just a

Legends in the House 

April brings a host of entertainment icons to the guitar-shaped resort at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino for what promises to be a memorable month of shows at Hard Rock Live.  Janet Jackson kicks things off with two shows (April 14 & 16) as part of her “Together Again” tour that includes special guest Ludacris. The five-time Grammy

Local Music: The Venues

Johnnie Brown’s: This popular spot near the railroad tracks on Atlantic Avenue has them dancing in the streets with live local music seven nights a week. (301 E. Atlantic Ave., Delray Beach; johnniebrowns.com) Crazy Uncle Mike’s: Founder Mike Goodwin’s brewery and live music haven draws rock tribute bands, singer/songwriters, guitar-driven blues acts, reggae groups—and more—to

Blackwater Beauty

Story by John Pacenti Steven Kovacs was no more than 5 years old, walking the beaches of Nova Scotia in his native Canada when he found a starfish and “went crazy over this creature.” “I was just enamored with underwater life from a very young age,” Kovacs recalls. “It was probably watching TV shows such

Other Posts

A&E Spotlight: Alan Cumming

The acclaimed actor, author, entertainer and activist has more on his mind than his upcoming cabaret show in Boca.

The Beat Goes On

The drummer for rock band Spektora shares insights into his journey and the live music scene in South Florida.

Spotlighting Live Local Music

Meet the talented musicians who make their living by taking the stage at venues throughout South Florida.

Montana Tucker Uses Worldwide Influence to Honor Jewish Heritage

The TikTok sensation and Boca native puts dancing on hold long enough to share a life-altering exploration of genocide.