What Was



Why Teach the Holocaust which Happened 80
Years Ago?

36 Q and A
Nazi Persecution

Jews in
Prewar Germany

How Big
Six Million?


on an
Industrial Scale

What Was the
Jewish Response?

Jewish Spiritual Resistance
the Holocaust

Rescuers Who
Defied the Nazis

Memorial Day


Holocaust Reparations


Nazi Plunder

Videos - Nazi Plunder

Nazi Plunder - Effects

Nazi Plunder - Recovery

Nazi Plunder -
Help and Restitution

Reparations - FAQ

Reparations -
the Future

Reparations -
Contacts and Links


Nazi Economy

The Nazi
Racist State

Nazi Party

SS and Gestapo

Nuremberg Laws



Kindertransport -

Museums and Memorials

and Unemployment

and Geography

The Final Solution


SS Paramilitary
Death Squads


Nazi Camps

Death Transport
Holocaust Camps

The Judenrite

Judenrite Stories

Ghetto (Jewish) Police

Red Cross
Holocaust Inspection Tour to Terezin


Deffiant Requiem
- The Documentary


World Attention
Concentration Camps During WW2

Nazis and Medicine

Nazis and Medicine

for the

Research Project

of the
Jewish Holocaust

Why do the Arabs Deny
the Holocaust?

Holocaust Survivors

Surviving Survival

Voices of the Holocaust
and the
Yad Vashem
Video Toolbox




Holocaust Links



I  S  R  A  E  L

Videos -

Maps -

Mogan David
(Flag of Israel)

Statistics  and Information

4,000 YEARS OF

of the Jews  
Arab Countries,


Leaving the
Middle East


and Story

Why do People
Hate the Jews



Who is a Jew?

The Jewish Law


Shulchan Aruch

Daf Yomi

The Hebrew Bible


The Temples

The Synagogues

Jewish Messiah

Jewish Conversion

Jewish Women
in Judaism


Jewish Culture  


Jewish Diaspora

Jewish Festivals

Survival of Hebrew

Jewish Calendar

Lost Tribes

Jewish-Roman  Wars

Understanding the
Middle Ages


Jewish Pirates

Why has Christendom
Attacked the Jews?


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Go to Raphael Schachter and Verdi’s Requiem
Defiant Requiem  - The Documentary


Music and the Holocaust

While there is a growing body of research on the subject of music during the Nazi period, the information provided on this site is focused specifically on the Holocaust, particularly the ghettos and camps of Nazi-occupied Europe. Those interested in pursuing other aspects of the subject are invited to consult the links below, including our extensive bibliography, discography, and filmography, for further reading and listening suggestions.

The musical and historical material in this collection offers a particularly useful resource for Holocaust education. While it is focused on music, the website has the potential to be used quite broadly across the teaching curriculum, in classes on music and music history as well as in subjects such as history, social studies, language arts or citizenship. The section for educators provides resources that have been created specifically for secondary school teachers. The new student guide introduces the main themes of the website, asks questions and gives students a chance to discuss the issues online. There are also resources for those interested in including music in their Holocaust commemoration events.

culturacolectiva     Giovanni M

When Richard Wagner composed romantic operas such as The Flying Dutchman, Tristan and Isolde, or the epic The Ring of Nibelungen, he probably never imagined his works would be heard by thousands of men, women, and children condemned to horrible deaths, that his music would be heard in the gas chambers of Nazi concentration camps.

The German army was aware of the properties of music. Psychology and medicine had continuously proven its benefits, such as reducing heart rate and anxiety, lessen headaches, improve concentration, as well as helping with depression and stress.

The Nazis then decided to use such properties during one of the darkest moments of humanity. This might have also been one of the forms of scientific experimentation done on the prisoners. Few are aware of the fact that the objects of violence were not just firearms, tanks, and airplanes, but also musical instruments.

Every camp had their own orchestra or a capella group conformed by 120 musicians working for the Nazis. These orchestras had the task of welcoming the prisoners to the sound of Strauss, Franzs, Lehar, or ballads of the thirties.

Nazi concentration camp music orchestra

After leaving the work camp, or attending to whatever the German officers would have prisoners do, the music needed to be a military march or the Nazi anthem.

According to writer and researcher Pascal Quignard, music was not used as a solace for the prisoners. “German soldiers did not put music in the death camps as a way to ease the pain or console the victims.” The author of The Hatred of Music claims it was made to create obedience.  

Simon Laks was detained in Paris in 1941. He was a musician who had studied at the Warsaw Conservatory prior to arriving to Auschwitz. His talent led him to be a violinist in the camp orchestra and eventually the scribe and director. Laks would frequently play Schubert, Wagner, and Brahms. Eventually the prisoners retaliated with the song Die Gedanken Sind Frei (thoughts are free), symbolic of the 1848 revolution.

Doctoral candidate Melissa Kage, from Stanford University’s German Studies Department, believes this clash of melodies proves the Jewish prisoners knew the music was another form of oppression.

Kage claims, "The prisoners wished to die in peace, which is to say, they wanted the barest hint of autonomy over the space in which they die. But the melodies of Bach, Beethoven and Horst Wessel, along with jazz songs, wrested every last bit of space away from them."

In a final effort to make the detainees see this music as a form of relief, the German army invited mezzo-soprano Hedda Grab-Kernmayer to Theresienstadt Camp to sing repertoire of classic and popular composers. This happened on December 17, 1941. Her career came to an end shortly after this concert.

It seems that there are endless horror tales of the Nazi genocide. As time goes by, we only find out more of what truly went on inside the death camps. Thankfully there are people like Kage and Quignard who have made research into these topics most of us would be unwilling to touch.


The Nazi ghettos and camps housed millions of people from across Europe, and their responses to internment were as diverse as the religions, ages, and nationalities they represented. For Jewish victims, music was a valuable medium of expression and an integral part of daily life in the ghettos.

Public awareness of music in the camps is associated most prominently with Yiddish ghetto songs and music from Theresienstadt (Terezin). Theresienstadt is not, as is often thought to be the case, to be classified as a concentration camp. Instead, its formal incorporation places it within the category of eastern European Nazi ghetto. These were constructed in (Jewish) living quarters rather than created as barracks camps, and were internally regulated by ghetto police and Judenräte (Jewish Councils). Though subordinate to the SS, the Judenräte possessed relatively more influence than the prisoner self-governments (Häftlingsselbstverwaltung) in the concentration camps. Music-making in the concentration camps took place under the extreme conditions of imprisonment, whereas on the whole, the ghettos offered more 'favourable' surroundings. Indeed, the SS’s use of Theresienstadt as a 'show camp' for the world further improved the situation for music. Both quantitatively and qualitatively, music in Theresienstadt occupied a special position within the Nazi camp system.

One sees evidence of this not only in witness testimonies, but also in the many concert programmes, posters, tickets, prisoner drawings, and compositions that have survived. From Theresienstadt came Viktor Ullmann’s opera Der Kaiser von Atlantis oder der Tod dankt ab (The Emperor of Atlantis or Death Resigns) and Hans Krása's children’s opera Brundibár, performed 55 times in Theresienstadt. These works have been performed across the globe and have come to represent an almost ideal type for the music persecuted and hated by the Nazis. Out of their success has grown greater demand for other compositions and composers from the camps. All this has invested music from Theresienstadt with considerable mystique. This not only threatens to cover up the real conditions of music-making in Theresienstadt, but also the conditions under which music was produced in other types of Nazi camps.

A prolific cultural life was also organized by prisoners in other parts of the Nazi camp system. In the internment camp of Gurs in the south of France, for example, soloists, chamber music ensembles, choirs, and a small orchestra appeared at concerts, cabaret performances, entertainment evenings, and other events. Similarly, in the Dutch transit camp of Westerbork there were numerous choirs, a kamporkest (camp orchestra) with 30 to 40 musicians, a café with entertainment music, as well as performances by soloists, chamber music groups, concerts, and cabaret performances. Many ironic and insolent German cabaret songs were written for the performances of the so-called Bühne Lager Westerbork (Weterbork Camp Theatre). Such critique was possible because the camp commandant sat regularly in the audience and enjoyed such frivolity like an almighty patron of the arts, for whom these imprisoned stars of cabarets and revues had to perform.

In Poland's Warsaw ghetto concerts were given by a symphony orchestra of up to 80 musicians. There were also chamber music evenings, entertainment and variety shows, choir performances, performances in cafés, Jewish Singspiele (musical comedies), and religious concerts in synagogues. Similar performances could be found in the Łódź(Poland) and Vilna (Lithuania) ghettos. In Łódź, the symphonic concerts and the revues were to be counted amongst the most outstanding events, while in Vilna it was the performances of the ghetto theatre. Because all three of these east European ghettos had previously been centres of Jewish culture, they were already well-known for their writers, poets, and song writers. The prisoners could draw on these traditions in the camp in order to retain their cultural identity. In terms of song-writing, some of the most prominent figures were Shmerke Kaczerginski in Vilna, Mordechai Gebirtig, who was murdered in Krakow, and Hirsh Glik, who was originally from Vilna but was transported to different camps. The songs written in these Nazi ghettos became a unique form of Jewish song, many of which were transferred out of the region to other ghettos and camps. Some became resistance songs that remain popular today, such as Glik’s 'Zog nit keynmol' (Never Say) which became popular as the anthem of Jewish partisans.

Whether out of personal desire or by command of their overseers, prisoners performed music in other camps and other camp categories, e.g., in penal camps and work camps. Yet there exists hardly any research on the subject. Even in the death camps, where prisoners only lived as long as the SS needed them, concerts and camp bands were not unheard of. But without taking into account the historical context and the particular camp category, it is impossible to understand the variable amount of freedom the prisoners had and, thus, to understand the development of musical activities in each specific camp. Seen as a whole, music could be found in the extreme situation of concentration and death camps, as well as in other camps where the conditions for a differentiated cultural life were more favourable. The decisive difference lies in the use of the music. In Theresienstadt and the Nazi ghettos, for example, music-making was primarily self-determined, rarely occurring as a result of a direct command of the perpetrators. On the other hand, music in the concentration and death camps always occupied an ambivalent position. There, music acted as a means of survival for the prisoners and as an instrument of terror used by the SS. There, it was common for the camp personnel to use prisoner musicians for their own purposes and to consciously use music to further break the wills of the prisoners, bringing about deculturation and dehumanization through forced music making. This is a fact often forgotten. For in concentration and death camps, music oscillated between its use as legitimate survival strategy and necessary diversion of the victims and its misappropriation and misuse by the perpetrators.

The Holocaust - Lest we Forget

The question why the Nazis used orchestras in concentration and extermination camps, and why the life of some musicians was spared and others not is difficult to answer. Some Nazis realized the advantage of having music dupe the unsuspecting and weary prisoners on arrival or when sending them on their way to the gas chambers. Then there were those in the Nazi hierarchy who believed that music would enhance their own entertainment. For instance, when victims were cruelly treated during long roll-calls on parade grounds, counting prisoners in marching columns to and from work detail, or during executions. However, the most logical answer still seems to be that many of the cruel Nazi hangman officials had a taste for good music. One such example was the sadistic SS Oberaufseherin - SS Chief Overseer, Maria Mandel. She was Chief of all the female Nazi Wardens in Birkenau. Since 1942 she held the position of Schutzhaftlagerführerin - Chief Warden for the women's barracks. As a lover of classical music she was an encouragement to and protector of the musicians who played in the women's orchestra of Birkenau. These female prisoner musicians were treated better than other inmates, such as those who were incarcerated in the political section or those who were employed in the kitchen. Their barracks were kept tidy and they usually received sufficient food and of better quality than the other inmates.

However, much was demanded of these musicians. They had to perform for hours at roll-call regardless of weather conditions. After roll-call the other inmates, who were assigned to slave labor detail, marched out to work to the beat of music. Then in the evening, when these work details returned totally exhausted, they were again welcomed by the musicians as they marched back to their barracks. Again to the beat of music in order to be counted. Music was ordered for all official events such as the announcing of a speech by the Lagerführer - commandant. Or, to meet the daily incoming transports delivering its cargo of human flesh to the camps. Jews arriving at these camps to be killed were given the impression that their "new home" was not all that bad. The orchestras had to play when new arrivals, selected to be gassed, were sent directly to the gas chambers. They also had to play during the dreaded Selectionen - selections when the less healthy and sick were separated from the healthier ones who were still capable to work yet another day. And they had to play when executions were ordered such as the hanging of prisoners who had attempted escape. Last but not least, they had to perform to satisfy the pleasures of their tormentors, the men and women of the SS.

Hans Bonarewitz, the prisoner escaped from camp Mauthausen, is brought "in Nazi circus style" to the gallows on a makeshift cart pulled by fellow inmates; The camp orchestra had to continuously play the song J'attendrai ton retour - I shall wait for your return. Another song, the traditional German children's song "Alle Vögel sind schon da - All the birds are back again," was played immediately before execution. Information supplied by Mr. Aitor Fernandádez-Pacheco, Paris, maker of the documentary film "Mauthausen, una mirada Española," who interviewed the former Spanish prisoner Mario Constante for his documentary.


Hans Bonarewitz, the prisoner escaped from camp Mauthausen, is brought "in Nazi circus style" to the gallows on a makeshift cart pulled by fellow inmates; The camp orchestra had to continuously play the song J'attendrai ton retour - I shall wait for your return. Another song, the traditional German children's song "Alle Vögel sind schon da - All the birds are back again," was played immediately before execution. Information supplied by Mr. Aitor Fernandádez-Pacheco, Paris, maker of the documentary film "Mauthausen, una mirada Española," who interviewed the former Spanish prisoner Mario Constante for his documentary.

 Authoress Krystyna Henke who interviewed Louis Bannet, the trumpeter of Birkenau, writes in her report: "Unusual as it may seem, and contradictory for an environment whose function was to eradicate lower forms of human life, as defined by the Nazis, including all forms of their cultural expression, music was indeed played in many, though not all, camps. There is an important body of literature, based primarily on survivor testimonies, that illustrates musical life in the camps. There is, for example, 'The Terezin Requiem' by Josef Bor, or 'Music in Terezin 1941-1945' by Joza Karas, both of which describe the rich musical life in Theresienstadt, a ghetto that through subterfuge and propaganda was held up as a model camp by the Nazis in order to successfully assuage any doubts the Red Cross or other visiting international authorities may have had regarding the humanitarian treatment of prisoners."


 Prisoners' orchestra entertaining the SS in Auschwitz I

 In five of the extermination camps, the Nazis created orchestras using prisoner-musicians, forcing them to play while their fellow prisoners marched to the gas chambers. The suicide rate among musicians was higher than that of most other camp workers with the exception of the Sondercommandos - death details. Many musicians were forced to watch helplessly as friends, family and fellow Jews systematically were destroyed. Auschwitz/Birkenau alone featured six different orchestras, one of which contained no less than 100-120 musicians.

       Fania Fenelon describes her experience as a member of a women's orchestra in Birkenau from January 1944 to liberation in her book 'Playing for Time.' Fenelon states in her book that even though she had clean clothes, daily showers, and a reasonable food supply she had to play light-hearted, cheerful music as well as marching music for hours on end while her eyes witnessed the marching of thousands of people to the gas chambers and crematoria."

The orchestra of the Janowska Camp in Lvov, Poland in 1943

Other rich memoirs in which music was at the foreground in Nazi camps include 'Music of Another World' by Szymon Laks, 'Het meisje met de accordeon: De overleving van Flora Schrijver in Auschwitz/Birkenau en Bergen Belsen - The girl with the accordion: The survival of Flora Schrijver in Auschwitz/Birkenau and Bergen Belsen' by Mirjam Verheijen, 'Trompettist in Auschwitz I: Herinneringen van Lex van Weren - Trumpeter in Auschwitz I: Memories of Lex van Weren' by the author Dick Walda and 'Louis Bannet: Virtuoso of Birkenau' by Krystyna Henke. These five sources concentrate on the musical activities within Auschwitz or more correctly its extension, Birkenau.

Many excellent musicians never were chosen to play. They were either not recognized or the Nazis already had enough musicians for their respective orchestras. For anyone who entered one of Hitler's horror camps, survival was foremost on the minds of the hapless inmates. Survival by means of playing a musical instrument was one such way. However, for all survival attempts a price had to be paid. These musicians literally played to stay alive, a day at a time because one just never knew what mood an SS guard might be in. On the other hand, by playing their instruments they sent hundreds of thousands of their fellow Jews to their death and there was nothing they could do to prevent it. Although the musicians more than likely did not see it that way, after all survival was the main object, nevertheless their function as musicians in an orchestra or otherwise much looked like the roll the Pied Piper of Hamelin played. He was the legendary 13th-century figure who rid Hamelin, Germany, of its rats by charming them away with his flute playing. When he was refused payment, he charmed away the town's children in revenge.

Thirteen 2017

hrough intimate interviews and live performances, They Played for Their Lives artfully portrays how music saved the lives of young musicians. Playing music in the ghettos and concentration camps not only fostered spiritual strength within themselves and others, but often proved a bargaining tool that spared their lives. The documentary follows the personal narratives of eight survivors.

Chaim recounts how he saved his father from beatings, by teaching an SS officer to play the harmonica. Anita, who played cello in the Women’s Orchestra in Auschwitz, was spared inhumane forced labor. And little Hellmuth whistled with the band in exchange for extra food and clothing. Each of these unique stories illustrate the power of music to sustain the human soul.

At the end of World War II their lives unfold in surprising ways, yet music remains at the core of their memory and legacy. Charcoal illustrations by Ari Binus, a live piano performance by 106-year-old Alice, and a moving reunion of two boys who searched for each other for 66 years, make this compelling viewing.


Dr. Nurit Jugend, director of They Played for Their Lives, created this They Played for Their Lives Discussion Guide for educators to use for post-screening discussions. Appropriate for all viewers, the guide features a director’s note and addresses what music meant at concentration camps —- both to the Nazis and to prisoners. More information about the documentary is found on the official film site, They Played for Their Lives.


Essay by Nurit Jugend, Filmmaker, Composer and Music Educator

During WWII, under the ruling of Nazi Germany, European Jews were being persecuted and forced to live in inhumane conditions. In the ghettos and concentration camps, they lived with constant hunger, sickness and fear of death. However, even under these horrific circumstances, there were those who managed to play music or compose a new song.

Music is a universal language that has the power to express what cannot be told or explained in words. The music that was either composed or performed during the Holocaust, provided people with a semblance of emotional comfort and distraction from their horrific reality: “music gave us so much, to escape even for a few moments to a ‘normal’ world” explains Greta, a survivor from ghetto Terezin. Though they could not escape from their physical reality “music allowed us a complete disconnect and emotional escape from the daily life”.

Above all, music had the power to save people’s lives. The Nazis highly valued music and often gave special treatment to those who had the skill to play an instrument. This appreciation to music allowed some musicians to get better jobs, better living conditions, more food and clothing. In numerous ghettos and camps, people who played an instrument were selected to join the local band or orchestra. Some musicians were forced to entertain the Nazis during holidays and parties. The travesty of musicians who were forced to play in the concentration camps would haunt them forever. In many cases, they played as they watched their family and friends march into the gas chambers. The ‘useful’ skill of those musicians was undoubtedly a horrific and traumatic experience, but one that often saved their lives: “the cello really saved my life because to be in this orchestra was a way of survival, because as long as they wanted music they would be foolish to put us in the gas chambers” explains Anita, a survivor from Auschwitz.

Therefore, for these survivors, their children and grandchildren, music has further meaning. In these families, the legacy of playing an instrument or composing music takes on another dimension. It is the legacy of ‘music and song from the Holocaust’ that carries the proof of victory; the power of human survival to continue living and overcome trauma and genocide, and the power of music to exist beyond any act of evil: “They tore off our belongings, food and clothing but music is the one thing that they could not take away from us, music that evil could not destroy” states Alice, a survivor from Terezin.

Music is a universal language that speaks to all mankind regardless of ones faith or religion. I feel it is my moral obligation to preserve the legacy of ‘music from the Holocaust’ and pass it on to the following generations so that the victims will not be forgotten. The film’s mission is to educate future generations about the Holocaust and strive for more tolerance and acceptance among people worldwide.


Music in Concentration Camps 1933–1945, Guido Fackler, Music and Politics

Official Camp Orchestras in Auschwitz    

Terezín: 'The music connected us to the lives we had lost'    Guardian Music April 2013

Ed Vulliamy talks to Anka Bergman, 96, her daughter, Eva Clarke, who was born in a Nazi camp, and other survivors about life in Terezín, the camp where a wealth of imprisoned Czech musical talent suffered and played

Music of the Holocaust:  Highlights from the Collection   United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Choral Music in Theresienstadt, 1941-1944,  Nick Strimple, The Orel Foundation


The Nazi accession to power affected musicians from every corner of German society.  Numerous well-known composers, conductors, musicologists, instrumentalists, and singers were affected by the Party’s
increasingly repressive actions and legislation


Musical works of diverse origin and style were performed and composed during the Nazi period.

The Nazi Party itself made widespread use of music
at rallies and public events,
particularly marching music and rousing propaganda songs.


In the Nazi imagination, music had a unique significance and power to seduce and sway the masses.

The Party made widespread use of music in its publicity,
and music featured prominently at rallies
and other public events.
The Horst Wessellied (Horst Wessel song)
was popular and widely sung.
Many propaganda songs were aimed at the youth.
The Hitlerjugend (Hitler Youth)
developed an elaborate music program


While for the vast majority of Nazi inmates armed resistance was almost impossible, isolated groups were able to engage in organised resistance—and music often supported their cause.
Amongst Jewish victims, the partisans that fought in the forests of Eastern Europe are one prominent example.


The Nazi ghettos and camps housed millions of people from across Europe.  Their responses to internment were as diverse as the religions, ages, and nationalities
they represented.

For Jewish victims, music was a valuable medium of expression and an integral part of daily life in the ghettos.


Music has played an integral role in Holocaust commemoration since the immediate post-war period.
In the late 1940s, Jewish Holocaust survivors established a lively and diverse musical life in Displaced Persons’ camps
in Allied-occupied Europe, particularly in the
American zone of occupied Germany.

Among the new songs that they created were many recounting the horrors of the war years, chronicling mourning and loss, and lamenting the challenges of displacement. Music also formed an integral part of early Holocaust commemoration ceremonies among survivors.

and the

The Musical Soundtrack
of the Nazi
Concentration Camps


the Holocaust Through Music



Click here to access the above links
and click also
The Holocaust and Death Camps

i24NEWS  2018 (6.21)

TRENDING | A lost composition written in the concentration camp was performed in Israel. Our Daniel Campos interviewed a survivor who witnessed
the composer creating the masterpiece.

FlimoraGo -One  2018  (3.00)
Music by Nazi death camp prisoners played for first time
Pieces of music composed by prisoners in Nazi concentration camps have been played to an audience
for the first time.
They were collected over decades by an Italian composer and performed at a concert in Israel.

AishVideo   2017
A moving depiction of a true event that occurred one evening in the concentration camp.  By A.R. Miller
Comment  Eric Trumpler  11 months ago

This is a beautiful story, but why do you accompany it with the wrong music? I had to turn off the sound, because i found the piano music so annoying, even that there was music playing when the story suggested that there was silence....this is the music that should be on this video, and not at the beginning, but at the right point in the story:





CBS Miami, 2017 ~
Saul Drier is using music to spread
a message of peace all over the world.


IPO FUND 2018  (1.04.15)
Czestochwa, Poland,
where 40,000 Jews were killed by the Nazis.
Sigmund Rolat tells the story of
a Stradivarius violin belonging to
the great Bromislow Huberman.
It is a story that connects
the great violinist Joshua Bell, Huberman,
the Nazi Reinhard Heydrich,
the creation of the Israel Symphony Orchestra, Toscanini and a Conneticut jail