Aleksander Kulisiewicz: Ballads and Broadsides-Songs from Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, 1940-1945

By Lareau, Alan | ARSC Journal, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview

Aleksander Kulisiewicz: Ballads and Broadsides-Songs from Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, 1940-1945


Lareau, Alan, ARSC Journal


Aleksander Kulisiewicz: Ballads and Broadsides--Songs from Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, 1940-1945. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 2008. 978-89604-605-4 (CD), 978-0-89604-713-6 (book). www.ushmm.org.

Interest has boomed in the music of composers who died in Nazi concentration camps, as well as in new compositions based on poetry written in the camps. This disc, however, is a unique document of an actual camp prisoner singing the songs he wrote while interned. Aleksander Kulisiewicz was a 22-year-old Polish law student when he was arrested in 1939 for his work on an anti-Nazi student newspaper. During the five years he was imprisoned in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp near Berlin, he wrote 54 songs, but he also preserved to memory hundreds of other songs by fellow inmates. After liberation, he toured Europe performing these songs and keeping the voice and memory of the Holocaust alive until his death in 1982. His archive, including his transcriptions and recordings of the songs form Sachsenhausen and other concentration camps, is one of the most significant documentations of the music of the Holocaust, and is now preserved in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. Out of this collection comes this CD of twenty of Kulisiewicz's own songs in private and concert recordings made from 1964 to 1978, packaged in a 60-page hardcover booklet with the Polish lyrics, English translations, commentaries, and illustrations.

Kulisiewicz's 1978 Folkways LP Songs From the Depths of Hell already collected songs of the camps by many authors. Ballads and Broadsides is devoted to his own Polish-language lyrics from Sachsenhausen, which were written mostly to existing melodies and folk songs. Performed in private gatherings and cabaret performances in the camp and sung by marching prisoners, the songs vented despair, offered consolation, mocked the captors, and evoked justice, however improbable that may have appeared. Kulisiewicz sings to his own guitar accompaniment--or as he said of his instrument, "I don't play it; it plays me." His lyrics give voice to the misery and brutality of daily camp life, the memories of lost life and visions of salvation. Though written for the day, and often coarse and harsh, the texts have a literary power that transcends time and grabs us by the throats, also thanks to Kulisiewicz' astonishing performances. …

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