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Music of the Holocaust
Handel’s Messiah, Bach’s masterpiece, Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, and Brahms’ Lullaby are just a few of the common classics of German origin.
Hitler used the musical heritage to promote the superiority of the Aryans. It means Hitler’s perfect complexion, blonde hair, blue eyes, fit and strong. Music and art shaped the political and cultural climate of Germany. Any composition written by Jews was banned, artists and musicians were forbidden to perform unless they were members of the state-sanctioned Reichsmusikkammer (RMK), and anyone who broke the law would be arrested.
Aryan culture was created by workers led by many artists and musicians. In 1939, the leaders of the RMK were talking about eliminating the Jews from the cultural life of the people. Jazz music was banned because it was considered “Negroid, non-Aryan”. Radio stations were controlled and censored, and only nationalist songs were allowed. All other music was banned and labeled “entarte” or degenerate.
Ghetto and Camp Songs:
Ghetto Songs had three main purposes: to document Ghetto life, to deviate from reality, and to preserve tradition. The songs sung in the ghetto showed a desire to live, sing and even laugh. In the ghetto there were street singers, coffeehouses, teahouses, beggars and madmen. A famous tune composed by a beggar has the following meaning: “Me hot zey in dr’erd, me vet zey iberi’ebin, me vet hoch deriebn”; “In their hell we will survive, we will survive.”
When it came to hating an enemy, laughter was a way of communicating it. One person or a small group of people play ghetto songs with a single chord, a small band or an orchestra.
In five extermination camps, the Nazis set up orchestras that forced prisoners to play while they were taken to the gas chambers. Suicides were more frequent among orchestra workers than among other camp workers. Musicians who were forced to watch by family and friends were sent to be killed. Auschwitz had six orchestras, each with 100-120 musicians. Fania Fenion, a member of the Auschwitz Women’s Orchestra, said that although she dressed cleanly and showered every day, she had to play “gay, light music, marching music for hours on end.” thousands of people in gas chambers and ovens.” Anita Lasker-Walfisch survived Auschwitz by playing in a women’s orchestra.
Hitler established a “model camp” in Czechoslovakia called Terezin. This concentration camp was designed to mislead the world about what was happening around the other camps and the Ghetto. The cultural life of Terezin was very rich, as all Jewish artists and musicians were sent there. It only made it look like the resettlement areas and the camps where the Nazis treated the Jews very well. Conditions in Terezin were no better than in other camps. For most prisoners, Terezin was simply a transit camp en route to Auschwitz.
Music of the Third Reich:
The Nazi regime had certain standards for what was defined as “good” German music. The freedom of musicians was limited as the Nazis tried to strike a balance of musical creativity to please the German people.
Three restrictions related to musicians and artists:
1. “Loyal members of the Nazis who were talented musicians were guaranteed jobs.”
2. “Jobs were not guaranteed for Nazi loyalists who were not talented musicians.”
3. Any non-Jew who showed musical “genius” and was a member of the Reichsmusikkammer (Reich Music Chamber) was accepted. This special arrangement allowed musicians such as conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler and composer Richard Strauss to continue working.
According to Hitler and his second man Goebbels, the three best composers who represent good German music are Ludwig van Beethoven, Richard Wagner and Anton Bruckner.
Holocaust Response Music:
Holocaust response music can help us understand the tragedy of this event. Composers experimented with many musical forms and incorporated them into monuments. Everything that should be next to the music: darkness and light, faith and hope, is very personal and has helped expand our understanding of the Holocaust beyond words.
Songs about and commemorating the Holocaust:
Carl Berman, Terezin. Terezin was written by a Holocaust survivor who came to the concentration camp in 1943 and participated in many musical performances there.
Michael Horwitz, Though God Be Silent. This amazing and moving song was written by someone who was hiding from the Gestapo and found on a wall in Germany.
Oscar Moravec, from The Diary of Anne Frank: Oratorio for Voice and Orchestra. This song was written as a test of The Diary of Anne Frank. It is a tribute to the courage and nobility of the human spirit.
Arnold Schollenberg, Survivor from Warsaw, 1947. This is the true story of a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto. The song was written using a twelve-tone technique banned by the Nazis, and the narrator has to half-sing and half-tell the story. It is six minutes long and depicts the opening moments of the Warsaw Ghetto.
William Schumann, Ninth Symphony or Le Fosse Ardeatin. Schumann wrote this piece to commemorate the massacre of 355 Jews, Christians and Italians in the Ardeatin Cave. “I looked at the cave and thought of all the people buried there and their lives. I am the enemy of oblivion.”
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