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Werner Sander

Founder and director from 1962 to 1972


Werner Sander was born in Breslau on August 5, 1902; he comes from a Jewish family. He received his first musical training in the synagogue choir, later he studied at the conservatory. His work as a private music teacher and conductor of several choirs ended in 1933 when the National Socialists banned him from working. He was able to continue his musical work as leader of the choir of the Breslau Jewish Cultural Association (Jüdischer Kulturbund) and teacher at Jewish schools. After the ban on Jewish schools, Sander had to do forced labor in 1943 in Kurzbach and Grünthal, satellite camps of the Gross-Rosen concentration camp. His parents were murdered in Theresienstadt and Auschwitz.


In November 1945, like many other Jews from Breslau, Sander emigrated to Thuringia. In Meiningen he worked as a music teacher in schools and as choirmaster. In 1950 he was appointed cantor at the Jewish religious community in Leipzig, where he conducted the synagogue choir and contributed to the transmission of religious traditions. For community members who lacked knowledge of the Hebrew language, he published prayers for the Shabbat and feast days in phonetic script and German translation. From 1954 Sander was also active in the Jewish community in Dresden.


In 1962 he was appointed chief cantor of the Jewish communities in the GDR. At this time he formed the Leipziger Synagogalchor from a chamber cast of the Leipziger Oratorienchor he had founded in 1951, and of the synagogue choir. With this new ensemble he was able to devote himself to the concert performance of synagogue choral works and save them from oblivion. The West Berlin cantor Leo Roth supported him as a lead singer, as did prominent Leipzig stage singers and organists. ​​​Sander compiled the repertoire from his extensive collection of synagogue compositions from the 17th to the 20th century, some of which he arranged especially for his choir. He also created arrangements of Yiddish and Hebrew folk songs, including "Schiron", a love song cycle based on folk tunes from the Song of Songs. Three records document his work over the past ten years.

Werner Sander died on July 21, 1972. He conducted his last concert with the Leipziger Synagogalchor six weeks earlier in the Apollo Hall of the German State Opera in Berlin.

Werner Sander (Archive Jewish Community Dresden)


Tina Frühauf: Werner Sander. “to finally fortify peace”. A Vital Exponent of Jewish Music in the GDR (Jewish Miniatures 213). Berlin 2017.

Tina Frühauf: Transcending Dystopia. Music, Mobility, and the Jewish Community in Germany 1945‒1989. Oxford 2021, pp. 193–235.