Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Music of the Holocaust

I just had a chance to see an incredibly touching online exhibition about music created during the Holocaust. The achingly poignant music includes 20 different musical compositions, all performed in their original Yiddish. Extensive texts accompany the music, placing it in its historical context. The new exhibition highlights music that was created in the ghettos, camps and partisan camps. “Heartstrings, Music of the Holocaust” is a testimony to the power of that music which served many different purposes – as a source of comfort; as a form of resistance, as relief and entertainment and even criticism of local Jewish leaders. For example, the songs that are included from the Lodz Ghetto are from the repertoire of the street songs of the ghetto. Street entertainers wrote new lyrics to Yiddish folksongs that reflected the events taking place around them, and performed the songs in the ghetto. The songs describe the events and daily life of the ghetto during its first year of existence. There are also sections in the exhibition about music in the Vilna Ghetto, the Partisans of Vilna, the Kovno Ghetto and Lithuania. There is also a very interesting section about the conductor and composer Shmerke Kaczerginski. While in the Vilna ghetto he wrote songs to console his fellow inhabitants; directed theater productions and literary evenings; and later was actively involved in partisan activities. During the war, while in the forest, he already began documenting the stories and songs that he had written and heard. After the war he continued this work becoming an expert in the area and recording 60 songs sung by Holocaust survivors. The songs in this exhibition are part of those recordings which are now preserved in the Yad Vashem Archives.

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