Music on the Brink of Destruction
Historian Shirli Gilbert reveals the complex history of music that was composed in the Nazi camps and ghettos, drawing on new research and digitised archives.
The Nazi camp system was a sprawling universe of brutality and murder that held millions of individuals from across Europe: Jews, Roma and Sinti, German communists, Poles, POWs, and countless others. The musical works these prisoners created are extraordinary documents from the time: fragments recovered from the rubble of war and genocide; monuments to the lives that were destroyed.
This forgotten musical legacy is beginning to be recovered by historians and musicologists, who have been drawing on newly-discovered scores, songs and oral histories to resurrect the diverse musics created during the Holocaust: from string quartets in Theresienstadt and tender ghetto lullabies to the fighting songs of the Jewish partisans, macabre camp ballads, and sardonic cabaret. Nazism's victims used music to document their lives, to mourn the loss of home and family, to show solidarity with the anti-fascist cause, to escape reality, to indulge in gallows humour. They also made music on the orders of their jailers, who used music both to celebrate and to oppress.
In the aftermath of war, a few dedicated individuals set about collecting voices and songs on the brink of destruction. Now, drawing on original research and newly-digitized archives, Southampton University's Shirli Gilbert, historian & author of Music in the Holocaust , analyses this rich musical history from the worst of times.
Producer Mark Burman.