Sounds of War and Peace

Soundscapes of European Cities in 1945

by Renata Tańczuk (Volume editor) Sławomir Wieczorek (Volume editor)
©2018 Edited Collection 270 Pages
Open Access


This book vividly evokes for the reader the sound world of a number of European cities in the last year of the Second World War. It allows the reader to «hear» elements of the soundscapes of Amsterdam, Dortmund, Lwów/Lviv, Warsaw and Breslau/Wrocław that are bound up with the traumatising experiences of violence, threats and death. Exploiting to the full methodologies and research tools developed in the fields of sound and soundscape studies, the authors analyse their reflections on autobiographical texts and art. The studies demonstrate the role urban sounds played in the inhabitants’ forging a sense of identity as they adapted to new living conditions. The chapters also shed light on the ideological forces at work in the creation of urban sound space.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • Barking and blaring: City sounds in wartime (Annelies Jacobs)
  • Roaring war and silent peace? Initial reflections on the soundscape in the Ruhr between area bombing and reconstruction (Uta C. Schmidt)
  • The sounds of Warsaw in 1945: Witness accounts (Katarzyna Naliwajek-Mazurek)
  • In search of lost sounds: Miron Białoszewski’s “Stare życie” and post-war silence (Jadwiga Zimpel)
  • The voice of Polish Radio in the soundscape of Warsaw in 1945 (Kamila Staśko-Mazur)
  • The voices of a liberated/occupied city: The Lviv soundscape of 1944–1946 in Ryszard Gansiniec’s journal (Zoriana Rybchynska)
  • The soundscape of public space in Breslau during the period of National Socialism (Karolina Jara)
  • From “love in the bright moonlight” to “the corner of dreams”: A snapshot of the soundscape of Wrocław in 1945 (Andrzej Dębski)
  • The 1945 soundscape of Wrocław in the accounts of its post-war inhabitants (Renata Tańczuk)
  • Calls for help and the sounds of pot-banging in the soundscape of ruined Wrocław in 1945 (Sławomir Wieczorek)
  • Waves of Remembrance: Wrocław in Radio Sounds. Broadcasting from the past (Dorota Błaszczak)
  • The soundtrack for the art installation ‘Glitter’: An attempt to reconstruct the soundscape of a post-war cinema in Wrocław within the context of experimental electronic music (Daniel Brożek)
  • The muteness of war-time trauma: A nonverbal perspective on the relationship between trauma and soundscape (Dorian Lange)
  • Authors
  • Series index

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World War II radically altered the image of many European cities. Some, like Warsaw and Dresden, were almost completely destroyed, and became symbols both of wartime barbarism and of the recuperative power of their respective nations. Others, like Wrocław (previously Breslau) and Lviv (previously Lwów-Lvov), were assigned by the signatories of international treaties to a different state, and consequently gained new populations. For many inhabitants of European cities, 1945 was a year of hope and of a return to normality; for others, however, it was the year when they were forced to leave the place they called home. These dramatic changes marked people’s lives. They also affected the sensual experience of city life, as soundscapes underwent radical transformations.

We asked researchers representing various disciplines and academic centres about the specific qualities of European city soundscapes in that watershed year when war came to an end, the reception of those soundscapes and their representation in autobiographical texts and in art. This topic is important to us for both scientific and personal reasons. We live in Wrocław – a city which until May 1945 was the German Breslau. Toward the end of World War II, this city was converted into a fortress, the defence of which cost the lives of many thousands of its inhabitants and led to destruction on an enormous scale. The Germans – who had lived in Breslau for many generations – were displaced and exiled. Their place was taken by our grandparents and relatives, among others, whose task it became to rebuild and to grow accustomed to this unfamiliar, “alien” city. Wrocław’s unique history of transformation has inspired us – as researchers specialising in contemporary and historical soundscapes, in cultural phenomena and sound studies1– to address the issues mentioned above. ← 7 | 8 →

A comprehensive study of urban soundscapes in 1945, their reception and representation, ought to cover such areas as the following: the soundscape of air raids and bombings; silence and noise in the sound environment of ruins and empty spaces; “attentive listening” in cities fraught with danger; sound and trauma; musical creativity; the sonic aspect of Victory Day celebrations; the de-urbanisation and rusticalisation of the soundscape of destroyed cities; the sound environment of post-war reconstruction; the sonic indications of a return to normality; the constant and changing sounds of propaganda – from Nazi to Communist propaganda; sound technologies (radio, broadcasting centre, street loudspeakers); the transformations of national acoustic communities; the adaptation of unfamiliar urban spaces through sounds; the ways in which the soundscape of 1945 was represented in literature, autobiographies, feature films, documentaries, exhibitions and musical compositions. Some of these topics have already been taken up by researchers working mainly on representations of the soundscape of World War II;2 it is to their analyses that the authors of the texts contained in the present publication refer. Our focus, however, is on the urban soundscape in 1945, conceived not as a definite moment on the axis of time, but as a symbolic turning point, a great watershed period of transition – between the end of the war and the beginning of peace.

The papers collected in this publication are studies on the soundscapes of Amsterdam, Dortmund, Lvov/Lviv, Breslau/Wrocław and Warsaw. For the purpose of describing those soundscapes and analysing their representation and reception, the authors have made use of different types of sources: autobiographical texts (Annelies Jacobs, Zoriana Rybchynska, Renata Tańczuk), ← 8 | 9 → interviews (Katarzyna Naliwajek-Mazurek, Uta C. Schmidt), literary texts (Jadwiga Zimpel), archive documents and press articles (Kamila Staśko-Mazur). The various papers in this book share an idiographic approach to the subject and inspiration from Raymond Murray Schafer’s concept of the soundscape, as critically interpreted. The authors have also applied and developed such research tools as auditory topoi and narrative strategies created by a research team headed by Karin Bijsterveld.3

The studies by Annelies Jacobs and Zoriana Rybchynska deal with the sounds of wartime and post-war Amsterdam and Lvov/Lviv, as described in the diaries of their inhabitants. Uta C. Schmidt, meanwhile, focuses on the soundscapes of the Ruhr and Dortmund, ranging from the sound of sirens to the music of jazz improvisations. She indicates the ideological and political meanings of jazz in the post-war period. She also demonstrates that the sonic experience related to nocturnal air raids helped to form a new “imagined community” of victims and stresses the importance of the sounds of rebuilt industry for shaping the Ruhr’s identity.

Different aspects of Warsaw’s soundscape and its reception are discussed by Katarzyna Naliwajek-Mazurek, Kamila Staśko-Mazur and Jadwiga Zimpel. Naliwajek-Mazurek focuses on the memories of musicians, composers and musicologists, some of whom preserved the wartime sounds of the city in their minds and returned to them later in their works. The author addresses the sonic dimension of traumatic experience and its artistic representations and transformations. The question of trauma returns in the paper by Jadwiga Zimpel, who concentrates on silence as a feature of the post-war landscape and as a category important to the study of auditory experiences during that period. She draws on the works of one of Poland’s most important writers, Miron Białoszewski, a witness to the horrors of World War II and to the post-war revival. Zimpel explores literature as aural memory and as an archive of lost sounds. Staśko-Mazur describes the complex process of the rebuilding of the radio structures and network in the ruined Warsaw of 1945, as well as the social and political significance of radio during the post-war period.

The transformation of Wrocław’s soundscape is the subject of four papers. Karolina Jara discusses the aborted Nazi project for rebuilding the centre of Breslau and speculates how it would have changed the sound environment. She also addresses the influence of soundscape on new urban development plans, highlighting the ideological nature of the project, inspired by the 12th Festival (Sängerbundesfest) ← 9 | 10 → of the German Choral Society (Deutsche Sängerbund), held in Breslau in 1937 and used by the National Socialists for the purpose of appropriating public space. This foreshadowed in a way the tragic fate of Breslau, the post-war life of which, determined by the city’s new inhabitants, would be marked by other ideological-political campaigns undertaken by the new authorities. Andrzej Dębski records artistic events in Breslau/Wrocław during the twelve dramatic months of 1945: the work of cinemas, theatres and the opera. Those events significantly contributed to the city’s soundscape, providing entertainment and serving the purposes of propaganda. During the war, they reminded people of better days; after the war, they testified to a return to the routines of normal life. Renata Tańczuk and Sławomir Wieczorek explore autobiographical accounts in order to capture the ways in which Wrocław’s first Polish settlers perceived and experienced the city’s soundscape. They reconstruct the auditory dimension of the complex process of acclimatising to an unfamiliar city and adapting to its culturally alien space.

The group of texts devoted to the city of Wrocław is complemented by two articles by Dorota Błaszczak and Daniel Brożek, who present their own original artistic projects – time machines that transport the audience back to the soundscapes of Wrocław’s past. Błaszczak’s installation made use of radio archive recordings, whereas Brożek created an imaginary soundscape of the post-war cinema. The two projects differed in their strategies for reconstructing past soundscapes. They also illustrated the possibility of representing past soundscapes in contemporary artistic practice.

War is inevitably associated with traumatic experiences, frequently concealed behind silence and also associated with specific sound-related sensations. Dorian Lange goes beyond purely historical explorations of European urban soundscapes and tries to apply the results of trauma studies to his research into historical soundscapes. He points out that silence and a refusal to articulate one’s traumatic experiences are common reactions; he also indicates representations of traumatic soundscapes in art.

The papers collected here demonstrate the range of possible approaches to the study of historical soundscapes, as well as the wealth of available sources. They also offer insight into the sensory, embodied experience of the city. Studies on the soundscapes of different cities also provide interesting comparative material, which should contribute to a better understanding of the year 1945, which was crucial to the formation of contemporary Europe.

Renata Tańczuk
Sławomir Wieczorek

1 We are the staff of the Soundscape Research Studio founded by Robert Losiak at the Institute of Cultural Studies of the University of Wrocław in 2009. The Studio conducts research in the areas of soundscape studies and sound studies, as well as engages in education. The Studio’s most important project thus far has been a multi-faceted study of the soundscapes of contemporary Wrocław, the results of which have been described in a monographic publication (Audiosfera Wrocławia [The sounds of Wrocław], ed. Robert Losiak and Renata Tańczuk (Wrocław: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Wrocławskiego, 2014), 402 pp.), and an online soundmap of the city. The Studio also publishes the periodical Soundscape. Concepts – Research – Practice. More information concerning the Studio’s activities can be found on its website: http://pracownia.audiosfery.uni.wroc.pl.

2 In this context, one should mention, first and foremost, the following: Carolyn Birdsall, Nazi Soundscape. Sound, Technology and Urban Space in Germany, 1933–1945 (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2012); Robert Maier (ed.), Akustisches Gedächtnis und Zweiter Weltkrieg (Göttingen: V&Runipress, 2011); selected texts dealing with the years 1933–1949 from the collection G. Paul and R. Schock (ed.), Sound der Zeit: Geräusche, Töne, Stimmen – 1889 bis heute (Göttingen, Wallstein, 2014); publications by Annelies Jacobs, ‘The silence of Amsterdam before and during World War II: Ecology, semiotics and politics of urban sound’, in Daniel Morat (ed.), Sounds of Modern History. Auditory Cultures in 19th- and 20th-Century Europe (New York: Berghahn, 2014), 305–325; Gabriel Moshenska, ‘Moaning Minnie and the Doodlebugs. Soundscape of air warfare in Second World War Britain’, in Nicholas J. Saunders and Paul Cornish (eds), Modern Conflict and the Senses (London: Routledge, 2017), 106–122; Joy Damousi, ‘Sounds and silence of war. Dresden and Paris during World War II’, in Joy Damousi and Paula Hamilton (eds), A Cultural History of Sound, Memory and the Senses (London: Routledge, 2017), 123–142.

3 Karin Bijsterveld (ed.), Soundscapes of the Urban Past. Staged Sound as Media Cultural Heritage (Bielefeld: Transcript, 2013), 11–28 and 31–66.

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Annelies Jacobs

Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Maastricht University

Barking and blaring: City sounds in wartime1

Abstract: This chapter deals with sound as part of everyday life in Amsterdam during the Second World War and, by drawing on diaries, investigates how its citizens reacted to new sounds, altered meanings of sounds and the disappearance of familiar sounds. To “bridge” our distance to this historical soundscape, the analytical framework sheds light on the historical relations between the material aspects of the soundscape (ecology of sound), interventions in sound (politics of sound) and the meanings involved (semiotics of sound).

Keywords: soundscape, sound, war, city, history, diaries


Nearly every war diary starts the same. In the early morning of 10 May 1940, the diarist wakes up to explosions, aeroplanes coming over or frightened relatives. He goes out onto the street in pyjamas, talks to neighbours, suggests the possibility of a military exercise, and then realises what is going on: the Netherlands is at war.2

That morning, it gradually dawned on the residents of Amsterdam that the resounding commotion no longer meant peacetime military exercises. Even if the sound of explosions or aeroplanes flying over may have seemed familiar, the realisation that this was not a military exercise made a world of difference. Undeniably, ← 11 | 12 → the country was at war. The gunfire now took on a new meaning and was listened to differently. This dramatic shift can be compared, in some respects, with the experience of moving to another house: on the very first day, all the sounds and noises heard are new, and consequently much more noticeable. And that was exactly the situation in which the residents of Amsterdam found themselves on the morning the Second World War reached their city. It was as if overnight all the residents had moved to another house.

More than in Belgium or France, the invasion of the German army caused a shock in the Netherlands because during the First World War the country had remained neutral. Although scholarship on the Second World War has covered nearly all its aspects, the soundscape to which urban residents were exposed during those trying and dangerous years of war has largely been ignored. It consisted of hitherto unknown sounds, familiar sounds that took on different meanings, and sounds to which people attributed other symbolic values as the war evolved.

As a concept, “soundscape” refers both to our exterior world – the sounds that surround us – and to a construct designed to make sense of that world.3 The constructive aspect implies that cultural meanings of sound and modes of listening are bound by place and time. As a result, historical recordings of specific sounds alone will not suffice when it comes to understanding how people perceived and judged particular soundscapes in the past. One also needs texts and other media containing information on people’s views about and experiences of particular sounds.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Open Access
Publication date
2018 (May)
sound history 1945 sound reception sound and trauma sound memory sound studies
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2018. 269 pp., 25 fig. b/w, 4 tables

Biographical notes

Renata Tańczuk (Volume editor) Sławomir Wieczorek (Volume editor)

Renata Tańczuk is a professor of Cultural Studies at the University of Wrocław, Poland. Sławomir Wieczorek is a faculty member of the Institute of Musicology at the University of Wrocław, Poland.


Title: Sounds of War and Peace