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Inge Ginsberg, Holocaust survivor with heavy metal coda, dies at 99


Inge Ginsberg, who fled the Holocaust, helped American spies in Switzerland during WWII, wrote songs in Hollywood and, in a final affirmation of her presence on earth, made a foray into heavy metal music as a nonagenarian, died on 20 July in a retirement home in Zurich. She was 99 years old.

The cause was heart failure, said Pedro da Silva, a friend and member of the group.

In a picaresque life, Ms. Ginsberg lived in New York City, Switzerland, Israel, and Ecuador. She wrote songs and poetry, worked as a journalist, and refused to fade away as she grew older, improbably embarking on her heavy metal career.

She was the singer of the group Inge and the TritoneKings, which appeared on television in “Switzerland’s Got Talent”, participated in the Eurovision Song Contest and produced music videos. Regardless of the venue, Ms Ginsberg usually appeared in long dresses and pearls and waved with two fingers to ‘rock on’ as she sang about the Holocaust, climate change, mental health and Other problems.

In the 2017 music video for the band’s song “I’m Still Here,” Ms. Ginsberg stands in front of a screen showing filmed footage of refugees. She sings – in a way reminiscent of spoken poetry – about her grandmother and four young cousins, all of whom were killed in German camps. At the end, she slices the screen and walks through it singing as she joins the other band members amid a roar of electric guitars, drums and a hammered piano.

“All my life I have fought for freedom and peace,” she sings. In the last chorus, Mrs. Ginsberg, who was 90 at the time, shouts, “I’m still here!

The group was born out of a friendship between Ms. Ginsberg and Lucia Caruso; they had met in audience at a 2003 concert at the Manhattan School of Music. Ms Caruso, a student there, was watching a performance of a doctoral composition by her boyfriend, Mr da Silva. The couple married, continued to perform and teach classical music, and remained close to Ms Ginsberg.

One day in 2014, Ms. Ginsberg read aloud to Mr. da Silva the lyrics of a children’s song she was writing. “She wrote these words about the worms that eat your flesh after you die,” said Mr. da Silva. It sounded like heavy metal to him, and he suggested building a band around it.

The group began rehearsing and filming music videos later that year, productions paid for by Ms. Ginsberg. She wrote the lyrics to their songs and performed them, with Mr. da Silva and Ms. Caruso and others accompanying her on various instruments including guitar, piano, drums, organ and oud.

A short documentary video in 2018 for the Opinion section of the New York Times filmmaker Leah Galant told Ms. Ginsberg’s story. It shows scenes of her performing on “Switzerland’s Got Talent” and auditioning to appear on the NBC show “America’s Got Talent”. Speaking to the camera, she said she wanted to prove through her performance that older people can still contribute to society.

“In American and even European culture, the elderly are excluded from life,” Ms. Ginsberg said in Op-Doc. “You have to have the chance to be heard.

Ms Galant said in an interview: “We felt energized by her as much as she felt energized by us.”

Ingeborg Neufeld was born in Vienna on January 27, 1922 to Fritz and Hildegard (Zwicker) Neufeld. Her father ran a freight business and her mother was a housewife.

Ms. Ginsberg described herself as a “Jewish princess” in her youth; she and her brother, Hans, had been offered all the luxuries. But that changed with the rise of the Nazi Party.

Ms. Ginsberg told Ms. Caruso and Mr. da Silva stories about the persecution of Jews in Vienna before WWII. In one case, she said, she hid behind a grandfather clock in a city building all night to escape Nazi paramilitary forces targeting Jews. Her mother assumed the worst, but Inge returned the next morning to a meeting in tears.

After the war started, her father was arrested and sent to Dachau concentration camp but was released, Ms. Ginsberg said, after bribing Nazi officials. Her mother, meanwhile, using the money from the sale of her jewelry, fled to Switzerland in 1942 with Inge, Hans and Inge’s boyfriend, Otto Kollman, who would become Inge’s husband.

The family lived in refugee camps in Switzerland and Mrs. Ginsberg managed a villa in Lugano, which served as a refuge for members of the Italian resistance; there, she said, she and Mr. Kollman would pass messages of the resistance to the American OSS, the precursor of the CIA.

After the war, she and Mr. Kollman traveled to Hollywood, where they worked as a songwriter duo. The couple divorced in 1956.

Ms Ginsberg said in the Times documentary that she finally found Hollywood “all wrong” and returned to Europe in the year of her divorce. She worked as a journalist in Zurich, wrote a German-language memoir of her stay at the villa and published several books of poetry. She had successfully invested in the stock market which kept her wealthy her entire life and allowed her to continue writing.

In 1960, she married Hans Kruger, who ran a luxury hotel in Tel Aviv, where the couple lived. They divorced in 1972. That same year she married Kurt Ginsberg and they mainly lived in Quito, Ecuador.

Ms. Ginsberg is survived by her daughter with Mr. Kollman, Marion Niemi and a granddaughter.

After Mr. Ginsberg’s death, Ms. Ginsberg divided her time between homes in New York City, Tel Aviv and Zurich. In the spring of 2020, she was living in the Zurich care facility when she contracted the coronavirus. Pandemic restrictions have often prevented residents from seeing each other or entertaining visitors, and isolation has taken its toll.

“We have no doubt that she died from boredom, loneliness and depression,” da Silva said.

He and Ms. Caruso kept in touch with her by phone, and the three began writing another song for the band called “Never Again,” also drawing on Ms. Ginsberg’s experience during the Holocaust.

“Each of my songs has a message,” Ms. Ginsberg said in the documentary. “Don’t destroy what you cannot replace.” She added a second message: “You can’t avoid death, so laugh it off.”


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