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.
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.
Cantor Yehoshua Wieder and his family were deported to Auschwitz, where his wife Chana and three youngest children were killed. Wieder and his three other children survived.
Cantor Charles Lowy (1911-1998) escaped Munich after Kristallnacht to Hungary and became chief cantor in Szolnok. From 1942 he was subjected to forced labour and liberated by the Red Army in 1945. His wife and son were killed in Auschwitz.
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.
In 1933, Rosebury D’Arguto’s activities with his Gesangsgemeinschaft was banned. On a return trip to Germany to settle some personal matters in September 1939, he was arrested by the Gestapo, and taken to Sachsenhausen where he organized a Jewish choir.
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’.
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.
Alfred Rosenberg (1893-1946) wrote Der Mythus des 20. Jahrhunderts (The Myth of the 20th Century) in 1934, which argued for the supremacy of the 'Aryan' race and the threat posed by Jews. He was found guilty of crimes against humanity and executed.
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.
Like few others, Kurt Weill (1900-1950) and Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) are synonymous with the cultural innovation of the Weimar Republic. Most famously with their Die Dreigroschenoper, the duo represented everything that the Nazis declared its enemy.
Composer Arnold Schönberg (1874-1951) together with Berg and Webern, are known as the Second Viennese School. His revolutionary musical technique of dodecaphony (twelve tones) was his signature creation.
Composer Viktor Ullmann (1898-1944) grew up and was educated in Vienna. He was trapped in Prague on the German invasion in March 1939 after trying unsuccessfully to find work in London or South Africa. In 1942 he was deported to Terezin.
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.