“Bloody Folklore”: New Research on Music, Archives and the Holocaust

Performance and Symposium Review

6-7 September 2023, Conway Hall and the Weiner Holocaust Library London

In September, a special concert and following symposium were held as part of a collaborative event dedicated to new research on music, archives and the Holocaust.

Zisl Slepovitch, Joshua Camp, Dmitry Ishenko, Sasha Lurje on stage.

Survivor testimony recorded by the Fortunoff Archive @ Yale presented on stage at Conway Hall on 6th September 2023.

Co-organised by The Wiener Holocaust Library in partnership with the Holocaust Research Institute, Royal Holloway, University of London through its Holocaust and Genocide Research Partnership, Fortunoff Video Archive, World ORT Music and the Holocaust, the Jewish Music Institute, and the Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies, University College London, this programme gathered established and emerging scholars and performers who are conducting new research or have written about or performed music related to the persecution of Jews, Roma, and Sinti.

Attendees of the concert, which was took place on the evening of the 6th September at Conway Hall, heard two specially selected acts, both of which are powerful examples of the recent efforts to bring musical sources related to the Holocaust out of the archive and into the public sphere through recordings and performance. The first half featured performances from the Songs from Testimony project, which brings the stories of Holocaust survivors to life in their own words and music. The ensemble performed a selection of songs recorded by survivors for the Fortunoff Video Archive at Yale University. These songs are a testament to the resilience and creativity of the human spirit, even in the face of unimaginable tragedy. The performers included artistic director Zisl Slepovitch on woodwind and vocals, Joshua Camp on piano and accordion, Dmitry Ishenko on double bass and Sasha Lurje who directed and arranged many of the pieces and who also sang and played violin.

The second half of the show featured performances from the Grammy nominated Yiddish Glory project, founded by Dr Anna Shternshis to preserve the lost songs of the Yiddish-speaking world. Dr Shternshis travelled to Ukraine to collect these songs, which were sung by Jews before, during and after the Holocaust. A selection of these songs were performed by Alice Zawadzki and her brilliant colleagues  Bruno Heinen and Misha Mullov-Abbado, all of which served as a poignant reminder of the rich cultural heritage destroyed by the Nazis.

Dr Anna Shternshis, Alice Zawadzki, Bruno Heinen and Misha Mullov-Abbado on stage.

Yiddish Glory project, founded by Dr Anna Shternshis, here presenting a selection of rediscovered songs performed by Alice Zawadzki and her talented colleagues, Bruno Heinen and Misha Mullov-Abbado,

The musicians collectively brought the music to life with their passion, sensitivity, and emotion. The programme was well curated and provided a comprehensive overview of the music of the Holocaust and the work that these projects have done to brings these collections to the public. The concert was a powerful and moving experience that left a lasting impression on all who attended, and was dedicated to Clive Marks OBE, who died recently at the age of 92. Mr Marks was a passionate campaigner for Holocaust education and remembrance, especially in music. He was the driving force for World ORT’s Music and the Holocaust website, which works to educate and inform people about music in the camps and ghettos and in exile and to remember the victims.

The academic symposium, which took place on the 7th September and was hosted by the Wiener Holocaust Library, facilitated a global network of scholars and relevant stakeholders to come together to present new, innovative research in the field of music and Holocaust studies. Participants included Bret Werb, the musicologist for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Alex Weiser on behalf of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, and Itzik Gottesman from the University of Texas.

Following an exceptional opening keynote by pioneer Gila Flam of the National Library of Israel, subsequent panel themes included new research on “zamlers” and the Holocaust, Yiddish song as a historical source, and performing Holocaust archives. Dr Hannah Wilson, (former) content director for ORT’s Music and the Holocaust project, presented one of her recent articles on the posthumous performance of Sobibór victim Eugen Engel’s opera “Grete Minde” as part of this event.

In all, this combined event was a fitting reminder of the importance of never forgetting the atrocities that were committed and of fighting against all forms of intolerance and discrimination. World ORT gives thanks to all musicians and participants involved, and to the organising committee Shirli Gilbert, Stephen Naron, Christine Schmidt, Dan Stone and Hannah Wilson.