Holocaust Survivors' Network

Introductory Note to the Music of the Holocaust Period

Dr. Susan Eischeid
Valdosta State University
Department of Music
1500 North Patterson Street
Valdosta, GA 31698

ViktorViktor Ullmann


Pavel Haas

Gideon Klein
Music of the Holocaust period encompasses a wide variety of compositions and performers. Most of the concentration and death camps had some sort of organized musical activity --everything from ad hoc chamber groups to fully formed orchestras, bands, choruses, opera productions and jazz groups. Additionally, most of the ghettos in the Nazi system had some musical activity, which was usually determined by the size of the community and the resources available. There is also a large body of folk song literature from many smaller communities andghettos.

The most formalized and complex musical activity took place in Theresienstadt, located in Terezin in the Czech Republic. Several well-known musicians were sent to Theresienstadt including Karel Ancerl (who survived to become the conductor of the Toronto Symphony), Viktor Ullmann (a student of Schoenberg), Pavel Haas, and Gideon Klein. Ullmann is perhaps the most famous composer from this group, and like the others, continued composing while in Theresienstadt. One of the most significant compositions to be written during the Holocaust was Ullmann's original opera, "Der Kaiser von Atlantis." In this work, the composer paraphrases the events which are taking place in the world and in the war. Sadly, Ullmann was deported to Poland and gassed in Auschwitz in October of 1944, along with a large number of the other musicians at Theresienstadt.

Another well-known work from the period is Olivier Messiaen's "Quartet for the End of Time," written and premiered while the composer was incarcerated in Stalag VIIIA, a Nazi labor camp.

A large number of musicians who were not directly impacted by the Holocaust wrote music which reflected the period and events which took place. For example, Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich wrote his Symphony No. 13, "Babi Yar," in commemoration of the people who were murdered at Babi Yar.


e l e c t e d   L i n k s :

The Viktor Ullmann Foundation, UK

Pavel Haas Foundation

The Gideon Klein Award

  A biographical sketch of Dr. Eischeid can be found by clicking on the oboe above.