Extraordinary Website Commemorates Music of the Holocaust

Theresienstadt Concentration Camp, Czech Republic

Theresienstadt Concentration Camp, Czech Republic (Photo credit: russellmcneil)

Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day. As a Jewish musician, I wanted to commemorate the occasion by writing about the relationship between music and the Holocaust. While doing some research, I came across holocaustmusic.ort.org. This extraordinary website provides a wealth of information about diverse composers and musicians, including those who supported the Nazis and the victims of the Holocaust. The website offers recordings of music as well as an interactive map with stories about musical life in European ghettos and concentration camps. There are also detailed explorations of the role music played in Nazi politics and propaganda; the resistance movements; the musical activities of the Nazi’s victims; and remembering the Holocaust.

I was particularly intrigued by a section about Theresienstadt, a ghetto city which the Nazis used as a model example of a Jewish settlement. A large number of Jewish artists and intellectuals were held in this camp, and the prisoners were officially allowed to possess musical instruments. As a result, the ghetto developed a cultural life which included choirs, cabaret group, classical and popular orchestras, and music instruction. Nevertheless, life in Theresienstadt was difficult. According to historian and survivor Miroslav Karny, music “affected the internal life of the camp only minimally and only temporarily”. The ghetto served as a collection point for prisoners on their way to death camps. Approximately 33,500 people died of hunger, disease, and physical exhaustion. 84,000 men, women, and children were dragged from Theresienstadt and put to death at camps such as Auschwitz-Birkenau.

The history of Theresienstadt barely scratches the surface of the information which can be found on holocaustmusic.ort.org. For anyone who is interested in learning more about the relationship between music and the Holocaust, I would highly recommend exploring this important resource.

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