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Music in the Nazi Camps and Ghettos

It is likely that there was some form of music in most of the approximately 10,000 Nazi camps. Music-making in the concentration camps took place under the extreme conditions of imprisonment.

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Music in the Death Camps

Even in the death camps, music played an important role in daily life. Official orchestras were established that performed at the camp gates in the mornings and evenings, and at weekly concerts. Prisoners also continued their own secret music-making away from the watchful eyes of the SS.

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Prisoners line up in the yard of the Oranienburg

Camp commanders reported joyful singing by prisoners as part of concerted propaganda to hide the horrors of the camp.                                                                                                                                              

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Survivors of the Łódź ghetto form The Happy Boys

Performers and organised performances were like bread and potatoes for the inhabitants of the Łódź ghetto. Concerts and theatre shows were given at the “House of Culture” established by "Eldest of the Jews" Mordechai Khayim Rumkowski.

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Sonic Torture at Dachau

The music produced from a loud speaker located on the Schubraumgebäude from records or the radio, had a crushing effect on the prisoners.                                                                                                      

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Diana Blumenfeld

Musician
Singer
Actor

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.

Yankl Krimski

Musician
Actor

Yankl Krimski was a theatre artist and musician in the Vilna ghetto. One of his most popular songs was 'Dos Elnte Kind' (The Lonely Child). Krimski’s fate is uncertain, but he is believed to have perished in an Estonian labour camp in 1943.

Mordechai Gebirtig

Poet
Actor
Composer

Poet, actor and songwriter Mordechai Gebirtig (1877-1942) was politically active and called 'the perfect Jewish folk poet'. His songs provide a window into daily Jewish life in inter-war Poland.

Isa Vermehren

Singer
Actor

Isa Vermehren (1918-2009) volunteered to support the German troops as an entertainer between 1940 and 1943. Due to her brother's defection she was taken to Ravensbrück, where she was locked in an isolation cell.

Benzion Moskovits

Cantor

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

Cantor

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.

Viktor Ullmann

Music Teacher
Composer
Conductor

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.

Carlo Taube

Musician
Composer
Conductor

In December 1941, pianist, composer and conductor Carlo Sigmund Taube (1897-1944) was deported to Theresienstadt with his wife and child.

James Simon

Composer

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.

Zikmund Schul

Composer

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.

Rafael Schächter

Musician
Composer
Conductor

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.

Dovid Ayznshtat

Composer
Conductor

Dovid Ayznshtat (1890–1942) continued to compose, conduct, perform, and train aspiring musicians, in the Warsaw Ghetto, despite the limitations and dangers of ghetto life.

Misha Veksler

Composer
Conductor

The conductor and composer Misha Veksler (1907-1943) became an important figure in the musical world of the Vilna ghetto, serving as the conductor of the theatre orchestra and composing music for many of the revues that were performed there.

Wolf Durmashkin

Musician
Composer
Conductor

Wolf Durmashkin (1914–1944) was a Jewish composer, conductor and pianist in Vilnius. He was deported to Klooga during the liquidation of the Vilna ghetto and was killed one day before liberation.

Kurt Gerron

Actor
Director

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.

Jehovah's Witnesses

Jehovah's Witness

Erich Hugo Frost

Musician
Jehovah's Witness

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.

Yankl Trupyanski

Song Writer
Music Teacher

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.

Zofia Czajkowska

Music Teacher
Musician
Conductor

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.

Hans Neumeyer

Music Teacher
Composer

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.

Leo Strauss

Song Writer
Musician

Leo Straus (1897-1944) was arrested along with his wife Myra and sent to Theresienstadt where he was involved in cabaret productions, both as a librettist and performer. In October 1944, they were deported to Auschwitz and killed.

Egon Ledeč

Musician
Composer

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.

Artur Gold

Musician

Artur Gold (1897-1943) was a Polish violinist and composer. He collaborated with his brother Henryk Gold and with Jerzy Petersburski with whom he arranged music. He and his fellow musicians were murdered during Treblinka’s final weeks.

Wladyslaw Szpilman

Musician

The musical career of Wladyslaw Szpilman (1911-2000) was interrupted by the German invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939. Szpilman and his family were driven, along with hundreds of thousands of other Jews, into the Warsaw ghetto.

Avraham Sutzkever

Partisan
Poet

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

Partisan
Poet

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.

Shmerke Kaczerginski

Musician
Partisan
Poet

Poet and partisan fighter Shmerke Kaczerginski (1908-1954) was a collector of Yiddish Shoah song. He was sent to the Vilna ghetto in early 1942 where he crafted songs to console prisoners and encourage resistance.

Hirsh Glick

Partisan
Poet

Hirsch Glick (1922-1944) was a Jewish poet and partisan. He began to write Yiddish poetry in his teens and became co-founder of Yungvald, a group of young Jewish poets.

Wladyslaw Szlengel

Poet

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.

Isaiah Shpigl

Poet

Writer, poet and teacher of Yiddish literature, Isaiah Spiegel (1906-1990), was an inmate of the Lodz Ghetto from its inception in 1940 until its liquidation in 1945. In August 1944, Shpigl hid some of his writings in a cellar and took the rest with him to Auschwitz.

Moshe Diskant

Poet

An important poet and song writer in the Kovno ghetto, Moshe Diskant was critical of the divisions between wealthy and poor in the ghetto.

Avrom Akselrod

Poet
Composer

Avrom Akselrod was a well-known poet and songwriter in the Kovno ghetto, known for his cynical, humorous and realistic depictions of the misery and occasional joys of ghetto life.

Karel Berman

Singer

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

Singer

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

Singer

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.

Lyube Levitski

Singer

Soprano Lyube Levitski's beautiful voice made her a star at the age of 21. In the Vilna ghetto she was lashed, kept in solitary confinement for a month, and eventually killed at Ponar.

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Brundibár

Brundibár is a children's opera written in 1938 and composed by Hans Krása with lyrics by Adolf Hoffmeister. Its premiere in Terezín was on 23 September 1943.

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Music in the Nazi Camps and Ghettos

Music existed in most Nazi camps. Evidence comes from testimonies and concert programmes, posters, tickets, prisoner drawings and surviving compositions.

Response
Restoration and Restitution

Richard Fuchs

Richard Fuchs was a German Jewish architect, artist and composer who founded the Baden-Wurttenberg branch of the Jüdischer Kulturbund (Jewish Cultural League).

Response
Restoration and Restitution

Wilhelm Rettich

Wilhelm Rettich was a German composer, conductor and teacher. He fled to the Netherlands in 1933 and survived the Nazi occupation by hiding in a cellar.