Operatic tenor. Schmidt was born in Davideny, Buchavina, Rumania, to a farming family. From a very young age he sang in his Shul choir and he displayed a natural talent for singing. He was keen to pursue a musical career, but sympathetic as his mother was to his ideas, so was his father against it. During the First World War he moved with his parents to Czernowitz where, at the age of 20, Joseph gave his first public performance as a concert singer. His uncle, Leo Engel, a crafty manager, took him to Berlin in 1928. It was unfortunate that a tenor voice of such brilliance and quality emanated from a frame that was less than five feet tall. Although his stature effectively barred him from opera, there were other outlets for his outstanding talents. He appeared in a number of films, he made records and he made countless appearances on the radio. When the war broke out he managed to make his way to France where he settled in the unoccupied zone. When France was defeated he made his way to Switzerland, where he arrived virtually penniless. Although he was in possession of an American visa and was very well known, he was interned as an illegal immigrant. He was never a very strong man and, sadly his health deteriorated while in the camp, and owing to a lack of proper medical attention, he died on November 16, 1942 in Gierenbad Camp, near Hindwhill. He was buried in the Friezenberg Cemetery, near Zurich and it’s reported that all the 350 inmates of the camp attended his funeral, in defiance of authority.
Schmidt’s Romanian passport. Later as a refugee Jew, his papers describe him as “stateless”.
Joseph Schmidt and Charlotte Ander in ‘My Song Goes Round the World’ (1934)
Joseph Schmidt in Venedig.
Joseph Schmidt and Bubby Schieber in Kimpolung, 1937