A Story Of Love, Death And A Boost To Music In The North Country

Aug 10, 2012

This story began 70 years ago with an Austrian musician fleeing the Nazis.

A Polish woman fleeing the Russian soldiers towards the close of World War II.

And their love affair.

Now it has ended with a surprise, $1 million donation to bring more music to the North Country.

For decades Fritz Kramer was a professional piano player in Europe.

Part of a popular group called the Comedy Harmonists.

One of their songs plays here…

But in 1939 Kramer, an Austrian Jew, decided he didn’t like the tune the Nazis were playing.

He fled to the United States.

A few years later he went to Sugar Hill where he stayed at The Homestead, an inn run by Barabara Serafini’s family.

Serafini says her father picked him up from the train station in a snowstorm in 1941.

The next morning the clouds began to clear. Kramer looked around.

“And there were the mountains and he said ‘We are home.’”

Year after year Kramer would stay for the summers at the Homestead and perform nearby.

And, he would become a member of the Serafini family.

“I called him ‘Uncle Fritz.' He gave me Spanish lessons. He took me swimming. I was his little niece and he was my pal.”

And eventually he ran into a young woman named Eleonore who was working in New York and wanted singing lessons.

“Well, of course he fell in love with this beautiful young woman and they were married in 1960.”

It was more than four decades later that Barbara Serafini heard the story of Eleonore’s escape.

As the war was closing and the Russian army was churning towards Germany she was a kindergarten teacher in a small Polish town and she fled, hoping to reach the American lines.

 “An Army soldier gave her two Army blankets and they climbed onto the back of an open truck and she said ‘I believe the blankets saved my life because it was the coldest winter I ever remember.”

Then, when the story was over, Eleonore did something.

“She climbed up a ladder to a high closet and brought down this thing wrapped in cloth and tied with strips of cloth. Opened it up and there are the blankets.”

The Kramers settled in New York. Fritz taught at the Manhattan School of Music until his death in 1988. Eleonore died earlier this year.

Sound of a funeral service….

Last month their ashes were buried in the Serafini family plot in Sugar Hill.

That night the North Country Chamber Players - a group of professional musicians -  held a special performance to honor the Kramers.

Sound of music playing...

It was called “From Vienna With Love.”

And it was there that Barbara Serafini announced the Kramers had left an estimated $1 million to the chamber players.

The money can’t be used to replace the normal fundraising, says Ronnie Bauch, who has been with the group since it formed in 1978.

Plus, the principal can’t be touched.

Bauch says whatever is available will be used in several ways.

One is to expand their playing in North Country schools.

Another is to offer scholarships so aspiring professional musicians could come to the North Country and play with the professionals in the chamber players.

 “It is going to be an incredible resource for the organization and for the community.”

But, Bauch says, it there’s also the heavy responsibility of managing the money and making sure it is used well.

And what about the two blankets? They’ll be on display at Barbara Serafini’s Sugar Hill Sampler.