Music in the Holocaust: Confronting Life in the Nazi Ghettos and Camps

Music in the Holocaust: Confronting Life in the Nazi Ghettos and Camps

Music in the Holocaust: Confronting Life in the Nazi Ghettos and Camps

Music in the Holocaust: Confronting Life in the Nazi Ghettos and Camps

Synopsis

In Music in the Holocaust Shirli Gilbert provides the first large-scale, critical account in English of the role of music amongst communities imprisoned under Nazism. She documents a wide scope of musical activities, ranging from orchestras and chamber groups to choirs, theatres, communal sing-songs, and cabarets, in some of the most important internment centres in Nazi-occupied Europe, including Auschwitz and the Warsaw and Vilna ghettos. Gilbert is also concerned with exploring the ways in which music--particularly the many songs that were preserved--contribute to our broader understanding of the Holocaust and the experiences of its victims. Music in the Holocaust is, at its core, a social history, taking as its focus the lives of individuals and communities imprisoned under Nazism. Music opens a unique window on to the internal world of those communities, offering insight into how they understood, interpreted, and responded to their experiences at the time.

Excerpt

This book began its life simply as a history of musical life amongst inmates in the Nazi ghettos and camps. On one level, it still is that: a documentation of a wide scope of activities, ranging from orchestras and chamber groups to choirs, theatres, communal sing-songs, and cabarets in some of the most important internment centres in Nazi-occupied Europe. But it is also more ambitious in its scope. At its core it is a social history, taking as its focus the lives of individuals and communities imprisoned under Nazism. Music opens a unique window onto the internal world of those communities, offering insight into how they understood, interpreted, and responded to their experiences at the time.

The book focuses primarily on the music created, circulated, and performed on an informal basis by prisoners in various internment centres, and on the musical activity initiated there by the ss. While I discuss numerous songs and compositions, I am interested as much in how music functioned as a participatory activity involving larger prisoner communities as in individual musical works that survived. I have chosen not to include issues associated with professional musical life, such as the fates of professional musicians and composers deported to the camps and ghettos, or the continuation of their activities in these places, except where they have direct bearing on everyday musical life. Also outside the book’s scope are Nazi music policy and its effects in the public and professional spheres—the Nazification of music from 1933 onwards in schools, universities, concert halls, and religious establishments in Germany; the banning of certain categories of ‘degenerate’ music; the political use of music at party congresses and in organizations such as the Hitlerjugend (Hitler youth). the distinction between the latter aspects of musical activity under Nazism and my subject is a fundamental one, particularly in the context of later discussions about ‘spiritual resistance’ and the social and political factors within inmate communities that affected musicmaking in the camps and ghettos.

I have also made a deliberate decision not to include Theresienstadt in my study, since it has been the focus of a number of studies. Theresienstadt, a fortress town located on the outskirts of Prague, assumed an exceptional position in the Nazi camp system as a ‘model’ or ‘show’ camp, one of whose functions was to convince the outside world of the humane treatment that . . .

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