Holocaust music

Handle’s Messiah, Bach’s Magnificent, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Brahm’s Lullaby are just a few of the common classics that are of German origin.

Hitler used musical heritage to promote Aryan superiority. This meant Hitler’s perfect breed, blond hair, blue eyes, shapely and strong. Music and art shaped German political politics and the cultural environment. Any composition written by Jews was banned and it was made against the law for artists and musicians to perform unless they became members of the state-sanctioned Reichsmusikkammer (RMK), and anyone who broke the law would be arrested.

Aryan culture was created by many artists and musicians who were ruled employees. In 1939, the RMK leaders spoke of the removal of Jews from the cultural life of the people. Jazz was considered “non-Aryan Negroid” and was banned. Radio stations were controlled and censored, and only nationalist music was allowed. All other music was banned and labeled “entarte” or degenerate.

Songs from the ghettos and camps:

The ghetto songs had three main purposes: the documentation of ghetto life, a departure from reality, and the maintenance of tradition. The songs sung in the ghettos showed a desire to live, sing and even laugh. The ghetto had its street singer, its cafes, tea rooms, beggars and madmen. A popular tune said to have been written by a beggar said: “Me hot zey in dr’erd, me vet zey iberi’ebin, me vet hoch deriebn”, which means; “To hell with them, we will survive them, we will still survive.”

When it came to hating the enemy, laughter was one way to channel it. One person or a small group of people would perform Ghetto songs, to the accompaniment of a single chord instrument, a small band, or an orchestra.

Songs from the camps:

In the five death camps, the Nazis created orchestras that forced the prisoners to play while the prisoners marched towards the gas chambers. The suicide rate was higher for orchestral musicians than for most farm workers. The musicians were forced to watch as family and friends were sent to be killed. Auschwitz had six orchestras, one of which had between 100 and 120 musicians. A woman named Fania Feneion, a member of a women’s orchestra at Auschwitz, said that although she had clean clothes and daily showers, she had to play “light, happy music and marching music for hours on end while our eyes witnessed the march of thousands of people to gas chambers and ovens. ” Anita Lasker-Walfisch was able to survive Auschwitz by playing in the women’s orchestra.


Hitler created a “model camp” in Czechoslovakia called Terezin. This concentration camp was created to mislead the world about what was happening around the other camps and ghettos. The cultural life in Terezin was very rich because all the Jewish artists and musicians were sent there. This made it appear that the camps were just a resettlement area and the Nazis were treating the Jews very well in the camps. Conditions in Terezin were no better than in most other fields. For most of the prisoners, Terezin was just a transit camp on the way to Auschwitz.

Music of the Third Reich:

The Nazi regime had certain standards that had to be defined as “good” German music. Musicians had limited freedom as the Nazis tried to create a balance in the creativity of music to please the German people.

Three of the restrictions regarding musicians and artists where:

1. “Loyal Nazi members who were talented musicians were guaranteed a job.”

2. “Loyal Nazi members who were not talented musicians were not guaranteed a job.”

3. Any non-Jewish person who demonstrated a “genius” for music and was a member of the Reichsmusikkammer (Reich Chamber of Music) was allowed to work. This policy of exception allowed musicians such as conductor Wilhelm Furtwangler and composer Richard Strauss to continue working.

Three master composers who represented good German music were Ludwig van Beethoven, Richard Wagner and Anton Bruckner according to Hitler and his second man in command, Goebbels.

Music in response to the Holocaust:

Music in response to the Holocaust can help us understand the tragedy of this event. Composers experimented with many musical forms and they were included in memorials. There were the sides of the music: light and dark, faith and hope and it was all very personal and helped expand our understanding of the Holocaust beyond words.

Songs written about the Holocaust and in memory of it:

Karl 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 Horvitz, Even When God is Silent. This dramatic and chilling song was written by a text found on a wall in Germany by someone who was hiding from the Gestapo.

Oskar Morawetz, From the Diary of Anne Frank: Oratorio for Voice and Orchestra. This song was written by the Anne Frank Diary test. It is a tribute to the courage and nobility of the human spirit.

Arnold Scholenberg, A Survivor from Warsaw, 1947. This is a true story about a survivor from the Warsaw Ghetto. This song was written using a twelve-tone technique forbidden by the Nazis, and the narrator must half sing and half tell the story. They are six minutes that describe a moment in the beginning of the Warsaw ghetto.

William Schuman, Ninth Symphony or Le Fosse Ardeatine. Schuman wrote this article to commemorate the slaughter of 355 Jews, Christians, and Italians in the Ardeatine caves. “I saw the cave and I thought of all the people buried there and in their lives. I am an enemy of oblivion.”

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