For most of his life, Peter Gary never spoke of the three years he spent in Majdanek, Dachau and Bergen-Belsen from the age of 17-21, or that he and his mother were shot and left for dead on Christmas Eve, 1941. Yet in 1993, after immigrating to Canada and British Columbia, Dr. Gary founded the Victoria Holocaust Remembrance and Education Society and began to lecture in schools up and down Vancouver Island and in coastal British Columbia. Until Dr. Gary moved to Victoria, Holocaust education was virtually non-existent on Vancouver Island. Over the years, he has spoken to more than 65,000 children and youth, college and university students— imparting his message that you can’t live with hate, you can only die with hate. Throughout his presentations, he has encouraged young people to learn from the mistakes of the past, and to welcome and celebrate each others' differences.

Peter Gary (Grünberg), born April 15, 1924 in Mogielnicza, Poland while his parents were on a business trip, was the only child of a comfortable upper-middle class family in Hungary. As a youth he was noted for his musical talent and studied with the great Hungarian composers and musicians of his time: Zoltan Kodaly and Leo Weiner. He was fortunate to participate in six master classes with Bela Bartok. But beyond his socio-economic situation, Peter’s family was Jewish, and to be Jewish in Hungary, after Hitler’s rise to power in Germany, was a dangerous thing.

In December, 1941, with his father away on a business trip, Peter, age 17, and his mother were taken from Hungary to the Hungarian/Polish border region, where on Christmas Eve, they were stripped, lined up around a ravine and machine-gunned. Peter’s mother was killed saving his life, falling on him as the shots rang out; he was one of four people who crawled out of the pit alive.

Escaping into the Polish countryside, Peter was smuggled into the Warsaw ghetto; internment in three death camps followed— Majdanek, Dachau and Bergen-Belsen. In Belsen, weighing less than 76 pounds, Peter was one of the lucky ones who had survived long enough to be saved by the British Army. He was liberated on his 21st birthday.

After his liberation and recuperation, Peter returned to his musical studies, ultimately receiving a Ph.D. in Musicology from the Sorbonne, and having the opportunity to conduct orchestras in France and Germany.

Dr. Gary immigrated to the USA in 1950, worked in the film industry in Hollywood, and began and developed a number of businesses in Southern California. During that period, he also taught extension courses for the University of California, Los Angeles, was a visiting professor in the music department graduate classes in Ethnomusicology, and continued to compose music. He studied rehabilitation medicine at night, spending the last 20 plus years of his full time working career in the “rehab” business.

In 1991, Dr. Gary again emigrated, this time to Victoria, BC. He taught in a variety of capacities at the University of Victoria before retiring and continues to compose music and collaborate with a range of colleagues on a variety of expressive products. 

In 1993, he was responsible for the founding of the Victoria Holocaust Remembrance and Education Society. Through that organization, Peter began an indefatigable commitment to the education of young people on Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast about the evils of racism and anti-Semitism. His influence on young people is perhaps best expressed in a story from the Millennium issue of Macleans Magazine at the in January, 2000. There, in a series about young Canadians who are making a difference to Canada, was a story about a young man from Comox BC. He recounted his troubled youth, his difficulties with the law, his anger with his life and circumstances. He was walking down a path that was sure to lead to big-time trouble.

And then, in his school, he heard a Holocaust survivor talking about his experiences. This only could have been Peter Gary. The presentation, according to the young man, changed his life. At the time of the interview, this young man was completing a MA at the University of Victoria and was going off to work for the UNESCO. Joe Hooper, that same young man, is today part of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme – UN Habitat, living and working in East Jerusalem. He and Peter are in touch with one another. In a recent note, Joe wrote to Peter:

“I have always been lost for words in describing the impact that you had on my life so many years ago Dr. Gary. Where would I be now if I had not the immense good fortune to have our paths cross? That is a question I have asked myself many, many times. I remember vividly you describing your experiences and then being struck by your message of ending hate, of believing that we can affect a positive change in this world for those around us. I was bewildered – and still am – by the strength, humility and compassion which you use to make this confused world a better place. You have been a catalyst for me Dr. Gary, an inspiration, and so much more. I can only thank you from the bottom of my heart, knowing that my thanks and my words will never be enough to express all that I am grateful to you for. Day in and day out for the past 15 years with the United Nations I have tried to take your message that one individual can make a positive change and apply it to the world around me. I have had some successes, many failures, but will not waver.”



As guest conductor, Mr. Tal has performed with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Moscow Symphony Orchestra and Kuban Symphony Orchestra (Russia), Wroclaw Philharmonic Orchestra (Poland), Vaasa City Orchestra (Finland), SinfoniettaCracovia (Poland), NeuePhilharmonieWestfalen (Germany), and others.

Mr. Tal has served as Principal Guest Conductor of the Israel Young Philharmonic Orchestra, Music Director of the Haifa Youth Symphony Orchestra, Music Director of Collegium Singers Choir, and Assistant Conductor of the Israel Northern Symphony, Haifa.

A natural educationalist, Barak dedicates much of his time to teaching the young. He is the conductor of the Givatayim Conservatory Orchestra,”Reut” High School of Arts Orchestra, Haifa, and others.

He is the recipient of major Israeli awards, such as the 2006 OedoenPartos Award for outstanding performance of an Israeli composition, granted by the Israeli Ministry of Culture, and of The 2007 Rosenblum Award for outstanding artist, granted by the Tel-Aviv Municipality. He is also a recipient of scholarships and grants by the America-Israel Cultural Foundation.

Mr. Tal has studied in mastercourses in Europe with conductors Kurt Mazur, NeemeJarvi, JormaPanula, Vladimir Ponkin and Zsolt Nagy. He graduated from The Jerusalem Music Academy and The Buchman-Mehta School of Music, Tel-Aviv University, where he studied conducting with Prof. Mendi Rodan and EvgenyZirlin.
“Artistically and pedagogically exceptionally gifted master of the baton… his aesthetic hand movements evoke tenderly the singing and sounding of his orchestra, achieving finest harmony” Jungfrau Zeitung, Switzerland

“Barak Tal has a uniquely impressive style, avoiding simple time-beating in order to focus instead on gestural emphasis and pulse, eliciting the finest nuances of texture, dovetailing and dynamics from the players. His freedom and structural control infused the opening work, Britten’s charming Simple Symphony, with poise and wit.”
Malcom Miller, Music and Vision – on Carnegie Hall concert, 2003.

“His sense of rhythm and fluidity of phrases, his feeling for melody and his stylistic intelligence make him an extraordinary musician. He conducts the orchestra in a very natural way and gives the impression that everything is completely trouble-free… he is able to accompany a soloist and to form an orchestral work with the same intensity”
Sergio Azzolini, Bassoon “An excellent, knowledgeable and inspired conductor” Klaus Mertens, baritone singer