Musical works of diverse origin and style were performed and composed during the Nazi period. The Nazi Party itself made widespread use of music at rallies and public events, particularly marching music and rousing propaganda songs. In many of the ghettos and camps that were established across Nazi-occupied Europe between 1933 and 1945, prisoners created and performed a wide range of new and existing music, particularly songs. Jewish inmates in the ghettos often wrote new Yiddish songs based on well-known melodies.
- Jonny Spielt Auf" taken from the CD "An Introduction to Entartete Musik", Courtesy of Decca Classics (www.deccaclassics.com/home.html).
Ernst Krenek (1927)
- ‘Babi Yar’ from the CD Symphony no. 13 in B-flat minor, op. 113 (‘Babi Yar’), courtesy of EMI Classics (www.emiclassics.com).
Evgeny Evtushenko (1962)
- "Europe During the War" from the CD Different Trains courtesy of Signum Records, Boosey and Hawkes and Steve Reich (www.signumrecords.com).
Steve Reich (1988)
On my birthday
The Germans walked-walked into Holland
Germans invaded Hungary
I was in 2nd grade
I had a teacher
A very tall man, his head was completely plastered smooth
He said, "Black Crows-
Black Crows invaded our country many years ago"
And he pointed right at me
No more school
You must go away
And she said, "Quick, go!"
And he said, "Don't breathe"
Into the cattle wagons
And for four days and four nights
And then we went through…
The idea for the piece comes from my childhood. [Due to my parent’s divorce], I travelled back and forth by train frequently between New York and Los Angeles from 1939 to 1942. […] While these trips were exciting and romantic at the time, I now look back and think that, if I had been in Europe during this period, as a Jew I would have had to ride on very different trains. With this in mind, I wanted to make a piece that would accurately reflect the whole situation.
In 1942 Cantor Benzion Moskovitsh (1907-1968) was deported to Westerbork and in 1944 to Buchenwald. There he sang for fellow prisoners and took notes of melodies he heard on a smuggled block-note.
Gershon Sirota (1874-1943) was one of the leading cantors of Europe during the "Golden Age of Hazzanut", sometimes referred to as the "Jewish Caruso". He and his family died together in the Warsaw uprising in 1943.
When the war broke out Joseph Schmidt (1904-1942) fled to France then retreated to Switzerland. Although in possession of an American visa and well known, he was interned and, owing to a lack of medical attention, he died on 16 November 1942.
Composer Henech Kon (1890-1970) moved to New York before WWII, where he was one of the immigrant writers and artists who had fled Nazism. He continued to compose pieces commemorating the destruction of Polish Jewry.
Jonas Turkow (1898-1987) was an actor, stage manager, director and writer. He received the Itzik Manger Prize for his contributions to Yiddish letters.
Diana Blumenfeld (1903–1961) was a folksinger, pianist, and actress. Caught in the ghetto along with her husband, family and friends, she continued to sing, performing in cafes and in the ghetto theatre.
A cabaret artist, theatre and film actor and director of theatre and early sound movies, Kurt Gerron (1897-1944) was a successful entertainer of the 1920s and early 1930s. He directed the Terezin propaganda film and was killed soon after.
Actor, director and leftist activist Wolfgang Langhoff (1901-1966) engaged in cultural activities in Börgemoor, organising the ‘Zirkus Konzentrazani’, as well as co-creating the song ‘Moorsoldatenlied’.
Musician Walter Starkie who set up 'El British' and met with General Franco to formalise cultural exchange between Britain and Spain. Starkie's efforts helped keep Spain neutral during WWII.
Composer and musician Erich Hugo Frost (1900-1987) was imprisoned several times in prisons and concentration camps between 1934 and 1945. He composed ‘Fest steht in großer, schwerer Zeit (Stand Fast in Great and Hard Times) in the spring of 1941.
The composer Hans Pfitzner (1869-1949) saw himself as a defender of the German nation, its values, and its culture against a ‘degenerate’ and ‘corrupt’ France. During his denazification trial, along with Furtwängler, Egk and Strauss, he was found not guilty.
Hans Joachim Moser (1889-1967) blamed America and the Jews for commercialising music. His commitment to celebrating Germany won him Nazi approval and was promoted to general secretary of the Ministry of Propaganda.
By 1898 Bruno Walter Schlesinger (1879-1962) was a musical theatre director and a few years later director of the Bavarian state opera. Blacklisted by the Nazis, he left for the US in 1938 where he conducted the New York Philharmonic.
In December 1941, pianist, composer and conductor Carlo Sigmund Taube (1897-1944) was deported to Theresienstadt with his wife and child.
Rafael Schächter (1905-1944) made his name as an accompanist and vocal coach, working in opera and theatre before deportation to Terezin in Nov 1941. A pioneer of cultural life in the ghetto, he was deported to Auschwitz on 16 Oct 1944.
Bass singer Karel Berman (1919-1995) was deported to Terezin on 6 Mar 1943. He sang in operas and recitals and was cast as 'Death' in Ullmann’s Der Kaiser von Atlantis. Transported to Auschwitz on 28 Sep 1944 and liberated from the Allach camp.
Marysia Ayznshtat (1921–1942) was one of the best-loved musical figures of the Warsaw ghetto. She was shot dead by an SS officer aged of twenty-one.
Khayele Rozental (1924-1979) was one of the most popular singers in the Vilna ghetto. She established her talents in drama and singing aged 16, when she was chosen to represent Vilna at the Festival of Songs in Moscow.
Yankl Trupyanski was (1909-1944) a music teacher and composer of children's songs in Warsaw and Vilna. He composed many of the songs sung by children in the Yiddish schools of the inter-war years.
The Polish music teacher Zofia Czajkowska arrived in Auschwitz on 27 April 1942 on a transport from her home town of Tarnow. She was to become the original organiser and first conductor of the Birkenau women’s orchestra.
From the age of fourteen, Hans Neumeyer (1887-1944), a composer and teacher of musical composition, was completely blind. He died whilst interned in Theresienstadt on 19 May 1944.
In spring 1944, composer, pianist and musicologist James Simon (1880-1944) was sent to Westerbork. On April 4 he was deported with 1000 other inmates to Terezín. On 12 October 1944 he boarded the transport to Auschwitz.
The composer and violinist Zikmund Schul (1916-1944) and his father left Germany in October 1933, taking residence in Prague. He was transported to Terezín on 11 November 1941 where he continued to compose pieces, few of which survive.
Egon Ledeč (1889-1944) was a Czech violinist and composer sent to Theresienstadt. He appears as the concertmaster in Karel Ančerl’s orchestra in the Nazi propaganda film of the camp.
Władysław Szlengel (1912-1943) was a Jewish-Polish poet, lyricist, journalist, and stage actor. He was shot along with his wife at the age of 28.
Avraham Sutzkever (1913-2010) is one of the most important contemporary Yiddish poets. During the war, Sutzkever was involved in many acts of resistance and helped save many important texts. He escaped to Moscow with his wife.
Leah Rudnitski (1916-1943) wrote one of the most beautiful lullabies to have survived the Vilna ghetto, entitled ‘Dremlen feygl oyf di tsvaygn’ (Birds doze on the boughs). She was arrested by the Gestapo and sent to Treblinka, where she was murdered.