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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2018 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved.


January 26, 2018  RSS feed

Text: T T T

William Hauben – Tampa cantor, author, teacher, survivor – dies at 95

By BOB FRYER Jewish Press

Cantor William Hauben Cantor William Hauben Although the Nazis killed his family and his life was in constant peril during World War II, William Hauben survived – despite imprisonment in four concentration camps – and went on to live a full life, spending nearly half a century in Tampa that included 20 years as cantor at Congregation Rodeph Sholom.

He was also known as a teacher and author.

Cantor Hauben died on Jan. 20 at the age of 95. He is survived by his son, Sheldon, of Miami.

He was born in 1922 in Cracow, Poland, and by age 4 his parents said he was destined for a life of music, which Hauben speculated came from his paternal grandfather and from his father, who played violin.

He began singing in the synagogue choir at age 6, then he studied cantorial art under the tutelage of prominent cantors until he became a soloist with a beautiful alto voice.

After Nazis invaded Poland, his family was sent to a ghetto in Cracow and eventually his parents and younger brother were sent to death camps and perished. Hauben was an apprentice electrician, so the Nazis put him to work in the Plaszow concentration camp. In time, the Germans learned of his singing talent and forced him to perform at their social events. As the war wore on, he was transferred to the Gross-Rosen death camp in Poland, the Ludwigsdorf death camp in Austria and finally to Ebensee in Austria, where he and others were liberated by the Americans.

Rabbi Josh Hearshen of Congregation Rodeph Sholom came to serve here years after Cantor Hauben had retired, but got to know him, talking about his legacy when he delivered Hauben’s eulogy.

Hauben “survived the hatred and the murder. He survived the madness and the camps. He survived all of that and then paved a path for himself that paid a lasting tribute to the world that looked like it could’ve been destroyed,” said Hearshen. “He survived the terror of God’s creations only to spend the remainder of his life bringing people closer to God.”

After liberation Hauben worked in Italy with the Jewish Brigade in intelligence. While in Italy he spent three years of intensive vocal study at a conservatory in Torino.

He arrived in the United States in 1949 and sold typewriters in Chicago before completing cantorial studies at the Cantor’s Institute of the College of Jewish Studies there.

“He did this because singing and Judaism were who he was,” said Rabbi Hearshen. “He did this because he loved teaching, he loved learning, he loved singing and he loved praying. Being a cantor just made sense and so he pursued it.”

Hauben moved to Los Angles to serve as a cantor at Temple Beth Am from 1958 to 1969, then moved to Tampa and served as cantor at Rodeph Shalom for the next 20 years before retiring and remaining a frequent worshiper at the synagogue.

For many years Hauben, like many Holocaust survivors, was reticent to talk of his experiences, and when Rabbi Kenneth Berger at Rodeph Sholom encouraged him to tell his story, he still resisted. It was not until after Rabbi Berger and his wife died in a plane crash in 1989 that “ … suddenly he [Hauben] understood that he didn’t have all of the time in the world to share and so he opened up and began to share his story,” Rabbi Hearshen said.

“Once Cantor Hauben opened up his heart and soul it would never be shut ever again. He took every opportunity he had to share what had happened to him and to the Jewish people. He did so because he survived and because he needed to testify about what had happened and what had been done.”

Hauben wrote of his Holocaust experiences in his book, From the Flames: Miracles and Wonders of Survival including two times in Plaszow when he miraculously escaped being killed when the camp Commandant, Amon Goeth, shot at groups of Jews as target practice. In one instance, Hauben recalled he and other Jews who had been forced to build a road made of Jewish tombstones were told to run while carrying the heavy stones as Goeth shot at them. Goeth, whose sadistic behavior was captured in the movie Schindler’s List, was tried after the war, convicted of murdering tens of thousands of people, and hanged in 1946.

During his time at Rodeph Sholom, Cantor Hauben was instrumental in bringing renowned Jewish performers to the community for the annual Jewish Music festival and prepared hundreds of students for their B’nai Mitzvot. He received the Honorary Fellow (1985) recognition and Doctor of Music Honoris Causa (2006) from the Cantors Institute of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

“Cantor Hauben came here and women were not allowed to really participate in services. He found this to be absurd. He explained that they were half of the community and their voices needed to be heard as well. He worked very hard to bring about egalitarian practices here at Rodeph,” Rabbi Hearshen said.

Hauben was also credited with helping create the Hillel School at Rodeph Sholom before it later moved to north Tampa and is now known as Hillel Academy, a premier Jewish day school in our community.

In retirement, Cantor Hauben continued to teach others about the Holocaust and in his second book, Light: Courage and Hope, he and friend Bill Sefekar paid tribute to 10 nations and a variety of individuals who saved the lives of others during the Holocaust.

He would teach wherever there was a potential audience. He went to churches, schools and many other places. All of this was so that he could fight to realize the statement “Never Again.”

The family suggests memorial donations to the Florida Holocaust Museum, St. Petersburg, or to USF to benefit Holocaust studies.

I met Cantor Hauben when he

I met Cantor Hauben when he was a resident at Inn on the Pond, and I was a member of a Toastmasters club that met there. Cantor often attended meetings as a guest, and even spoke a couple of times. I was delighted when he would call me his "buddy." It was a privilege to know him.

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