Sounds of Apocalypse

Music in Poland under German Occupation

by Katarzyna Naliwajek (Author)
©2022 Monographs 354 Pages


This investigation of Polish, Jewish, and German sources demonstrates the roles of music in occupied Poland. Its former citizens had their access to music controlled by the Nazi Ministry of Propaganda. It was rationed as other goods, depending on racial (i.e. also legal) status. Official music performances served as a propagandistic tool to further divide the Nazi-segregated population. Music played clandestinely embodied resistance. It restored the sense of community and helped save musicians persecuted as Jews, like Władysław Szpilman. The documents analyzed in the monograph confirm the dehumanization of prospective victims, mixed with a narcissistic self-righteous view of Nazi songs and propaganda ultimately led to the organized presence of music in the Holocaust sites.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction
  • Silence versus sound memory
  • State of research
  • Methods, questions, and goals
  • Chapter One: Music as a manipulative tool in Nazi cultural and political domination
  • 1.1. Nazi propaganda of German cultural supremacy and racial hatred
  • 1.2. Racial pseudo-aesthetics as the ideological background of cultural policies
  • 1.3. Nazi administration and racial jurisdiction versus Polish culture
  • 1.4. Racial segregation and ghettoization
  • 1.5. Nazi propaganda towards different social and ethnic groups
  • 1.6. The appropriation of Chopin by the Nazi propaganda
  • Chapter Two: Musical life in the General Government and annexed territories
  • 2.1 Music in the General Government
  • 2.1.1. Germans for Germans
  • 2.1.2. Music by Poles for Poles
  • 2.1.3. Music by Jews for Jews: The Warsaw Ghetto
  • 2.1.4. Appropriation, destruction, genocide: Three facets of Nazi cultural policy in Krakow
  • 2.1.5. Control of the symbolic spaces
  • 2.1.6. Clandestine music as protest, resistance, and quest for freedom
  • 2.2. Music in Reich-annexed territories: Aufbau in the Warthegau
  • 2.3. Soundscape of occupied Poland in witnesses’ testimonies
  • 2.3.1. Trauma-related sounds of violence
  • 2.3.2. Traumatic sound as creativity inception factor
  • 2.3.3. Sounds of being shot at
  • 2.3.4. Music as a tool of counteracting traumatic sounds
  • 2.3.5. Singing as method to counteract traumatic warfare sounds
  • 2.3.6. Imagined music: Musical memory as survival technique
  • 2.3.7. Sounds of the ruined city
  • Chapter Three: The functions of music within the Nazi system of genocide in occupied Poland
  • 3.1. Psychopathology of the ritual
  • 3.2. Music as torture and as deception
  • 3.3. Music and management in Treblinka
  • 3.4. Sadistic domination: forced music-making
  • 3.5. Music as entertainment for the guards
  • 3.6. The interrelationship of torture and music from a psychoanalytical perspective
  • 3.7. Mass Killings and the Sound of Music
  • 3.8. Music as self-defense, resistance, survival, and mourning
  • Acknowledgments
  • Epilogue
  • List of abbreviations
  • Bibliography
  • Appendix
  • Appendix to Introduction
  • Appendix to Chapter one
  • Appendix to 1.6.
  • Appendix to Chapter two
  • Appendix to 2.1.1. Poles for Poles
  • Propaganda through music for Poles as presented by the German media
  • Appendix to 2.1.2. Germans for Germans
  • Appendix to 2.1.3. Music by Jews for Jews
  • Appendix to 2.1.6. Clandestine music as protest, resistance, and quest for freedom
  • Appendix to 2.1.5. Control of the symbolic spaces
  • Musicians killed during the German occupation of Poland – a few portraits
  • Marian Neuteich
  • Singer Helena Ostrowska
  • Looted Chopin memorabilia from the collection of Leopold Binental (1886–1944), the Polish-Jewish chopinologist murdered by the Germans
  • The Plunder of the Binental Collection
  • List of items related to Chopin lost or stolen during the German occupation of Poland
  • History of the Fryderyk Chopin Institute Collection
  • Index of Names
  • Series Index

←10 | 11→


The utter disruption of musical life in Poland during its occupation by the Third Reich is analogous to mechanisms that ravaged all other spheres of life and culture. The destruction and plunder of Poland’s infrastructure, industry, multicultural heritage, architecture, monuments, instruments, libraries, education, and state institutions with their staff, was unparalleled, just as the casualty rate in Poland, which constituted 18 per cent of the whole pre-war population, while in Germany it was 7.4 per cent, in Russia – 11.2 per cent, in Great Britain – 0.9 per cent.1 These fundamental differences between the ravaged Polish state and other European countries were further aggravated by post-war impoverishment and the undermining of Poland’s political position due to the decisions made jointly by the Allies and the Soviets. Musing over the Bundesarchiv photograph documenting the distribution of the spoils of war, decided on without the participation of those who had been despoiled, a bitter travesty comes to mind: “Poland as the Politicians’ Blooded Playground.”2 In his seminal work, Norman Davies explained for the first time facts unknown in the West and until 1989 unknown in Poland itself, and he pointed out that “Poland became the killing-ground of Europe, the new Golgotha. Still, even in 1945 peace was not fully restored.”3

The liberation of Polish territories from German occupation went hand in hand with the implementation of Soviet political control and the radical change of pre-war borders according to Stalin’s plan, ratified in August 1945 at the Potsdam Conference (17 July – 2 August) by the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union. This legitimized the transfer of power over Poland to the Soviet Union, as the puppet communist government created by the Soviets (Provisional Government of National Unity) was recognized by all three partners, thereby ending the recognition of the legitimate London-based Polish government-in-exile. Alongside British and American foreign ministers, an important role was played by the Russian foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov, who just six years ←11 | 12→earlier had signed a secret Pact with Nazi foreign minister Ribbentrop – a pact which divided Polish territories into “two spheres of influence” and set the stage for the attack on Poland in 1939, on September 1st and 17th respectively. The Soviets used all possible propaganda methods either to deny it, despite the blatant evidence (see Appendix and section 1.3. of this book), or argue that “the intervention” was justified.

The disappearance of Poland from the map of Europe between 1939–1945 was all the more natural for its neighbours since just twenty years before it hadn’t existed either, being partitioned for 123 years (1795–1918) between Russia, Prussia, and Austria. The situation of Poland as a state, with borders shifting due to pacts signed by other countries, was thus – euphemistically speaking – unstable and this strongly influenced its cultural identity, its musical and non-musical realities and ideologies.

The time between September 1, 1939, and May 1945 constitutes not only the most tragic period in Poland’s history, but also the most difficult one to investigate. In contrast to most of the other Nazi-occupied countries, the whole structure of musical life was shattered, and the very existence of musicians was imperilled. Soviet and German occupiers – for more than a century aggressively seeking to control Poland, trying to Russify and Germanize it – knew that the only continuity that held together the very idea of this non-existent state was contained in its culture, language, and intellectual power. This is why the occupying powers agreed that liquidating the Polish elites was necessary. And indeed, it was a task they scrupulously and eagerly effectuated when they seized Poland’s territories again in 1939. Even though Chopin’s piano at the Zamoyski palace in Warsaw was smashed to pieces, when the Russians threw it out of the window on 19 September 1863 in revenge for the unsuccessful attempt of Polish insurgents to kill the Russian governor Teodor Berg, it was immortalized in the visionary poem Fortepian Szopena (1863–4) by Cyprian Kamil Norwid and became an indestructible symbol of spiritual resistance. The number of pianos and other instruments destroyed and plundered in occupied Poland is impossible to evaluate. Also, the numbers of musicians killed on this “killing ground,” into which Polish territories had been transformed, cannot be precisely established. In the process of effacing the identity of Shoah victims, documents recording the deaths of victims – among them established and less well-known musicians, young talents murdered in German death camps – were effectively destroyed by the functionaries of the Third Reich. Oral repertoires, as those of Roma, Jewish and other traditional musicians, were lost forever behind the gates of extermination camps. We are left with slivers of memory retained by the survivors and the debris of evidence the perpetrators were unable to destroy. And we are left with questions, ←12 | 13→trying to go back on the blood trails, trying to understand the function of music in the lives and deaths of the victims and survivors. Their identities as human beings devoted to music were much less important than their “racial status” and “usefulness” – categories which served to determine whether they were killed or kept alive. On August 24, 1944, in block 28 at KL Auschwitz, between 40 and 50 of the strongest and healthiest young prisoners – mostly Hungarian Jews – were selected for pseudo-medical experiments by a young Wehrmacht doctor. Samuel Stern, who was forced to assist during the experiments as an inmate-medic, remembered Szigetthi, an 18-year-old boy from Budapest, who “in spite of horrific pain never complained and notated from memory the most beautiful Mozart’s compositions on the planks of the highest bunk.”4 This was his method of keeping his identity and resisting the unbearable suffering. In October, he was selected by the same doctor for the gas chamber with three other prisoners.

To the well-educated perpetrators who often held doctorates from famous universities, such criminal actions, mass murder included, were “justifiable.” If they were not sentenced to life in prison or given the death penalty, they continued their academic, professional, and political careers unhindered in post-war Germany. Prof. Dr. med. Karl Gebhardt, Consulting Surgeon of the Waffen SS, Major General in the SS and President of the German Red Cross who was sentenced during the Nuremberg Trials did not show any remorse. To the contrary, he justified his experiments with sulphanilamide on Polish resistance fighters in Ravensbrück (the youngest was 16, the oldest 48) by claiming that it was a response to the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, Deputy Reich Protector of Bohemia and Moravia, which took place on 27 May 1942 in Prague. When Polish witnesses were introduced to the court by the Prosecutor’s medical expert, neurologist and psychiatrist Leo Alexander, the manipulatory cynicism of Gebhardt reached its apex. He became the prosecutor himself, accusing Alexander

Gebhardt’s pseudo-scientific megalomaniac ebriety as extension of his narcissistic ego,6 his sense of supremacy, nurtured by the profound disdain and hatred for the Untermenschen, and his omnipotence – both imagined and real since he was indeed “the lord of life and death” to the prisoners – made this conceited representative of German science absolutely immune to any empathy towards his victims. He did not perceive the women he mutilated in Ravensbrück as human individuals and thus it did not matter whether she was a young Polish girl or a maimed French conductor – they were treated as “experimental persons,” bodies to be used and disposed of.7 However, the psychoanalytical interpretations do not seem sufficient for explaining those Nazi attitudes towards their victims. The Italian philosopher Roberto Esposito states in his chilling analyses of what he called the Nazi thanatopolitics that “the overall role that medicine played in Nazi ideology and practices” is precisely what should be investigated:

←14 | 15→

The future “head of Zyklon-B distribution in Auschwitz, Joachim Mrugowski, spoke of ‘the doctor’s divine mission,’ and ‘the priest of the sacred flame of life’” in his 1939 publication.9 And thus,

It is no coincidence that the doctor, even before the sovereign or the priest, was equated with the heroic figure of the “soldier of life.” In corresponding fashion, Slavic soldiers who arrived from the East were considered not only adversaries of the Reich, but “enemies of life.” It isn’t enough to conclude, however, that the limits between healing and killing have been eliminated in the biomedical vision of Nazism. Instead, we need to conceptualize them as two sides of the same project that makes one the necessary condiction of the other: it is only by killing as many people as possible that one could heal [risanare] those who represented the true Germany.10

Musical abilities, however, were so useful for the Nazi genocide system that they could counterbalance the “biological impurity” and redeem (at least temporarily) some chosen “enemies of life.” Another Ravensbrück prisoner, a young singer and Polish resistance member, Zofia Ryś, was treated better, because her singing was noticed, so that her work as forced labourer was much lighter than in the case of other prisoners. In her report, Ryś admits that she could work in the Hohenlychen sanatorium’s garden, embracing a special function: “she had to sing for the head of the Hohenlychen kitchen.”11 Born in 1920, she was arrested ←15 | 16→in the aftermath of a daring Polish underground action to liberate the courier Jan Karski, emissary of the Polish government-in-exile, from hospital, where he was held after an attempted suicide in a Gestapo prison. This action was skilfully organized by Zofia’s brother, Polish underground courier Zbigniew Ryś on July 28, 1940. She was arrested on April 29, 1941, in Warsaw, where she studied singing with Professor Stefan Belina-Skupiewski, was involved in the clandestine Institute of Theatrical Art and lived in the apartment of her sister Wanda and her brother-in-law, conductor Olgierd Straszyński, an important figure in the Polish underground. She knew she would be arrested, but did not go into hiding, so that she could take the blame for her sisters and mother, arrested earlier, to be released. From the Pawiak prison she was sent to Nowy Sącz, where she used to live and where the liberation of Karski had taken place. During cruel interrogations by Obersturmführer Heinrich Hamann12 she did not denounce anyone. She was the prisoner of Ravensbürck for four years, from September 1941, where she also took part in clandestine activity. However, the Germans, who applied ←16 | 17→the principle of collective responsibility, sentenced to death and subsequently executed the elite of Nowy Sącz as punishment for this successful underground action. The day before her transport to Ravensbrück she was given a sign through the window of her cell from the window of the Court, which was on the opposite side of the street, to sing that day at 7 pm Gounod’s Ave Maria. It turned out that this was planned by her sister Stanisława and a court employee that she should sing for fellow prisoners who were to be executed the next day: her teacher of theatre, Bolesław Barbacki, her brother’s friends, the priest Tadeusz Kaczmarek and several others.13

Rena Anisfeld from Nowy Sącz – who was one year older than Zofia Ryś, and lost her father, Mojżesz Guttreich, her mother Lea and all her brothers: Arie, Joel, Chanina, Jecheskiel, Aron, Icchak, Chaim – gave a haunting record of Hamann’s murderous actions and of his use of music both for the amusement of the perpetrators and for the torture and degradation of the victims, to strip them of human dignity and transform them into his puppets:

Immediately after the Gestapo appeared, some devilish ideas were set in motion: actions, shooting Jews, hangings. Hamann used to say: “All belongs to me, your lives also, actually it’s all mine!” Obersturmführer Heinrich Hamann had the title of doctor. It was said he was an attorney, but I don’t know how much of this is true. He was exceptionally beautiful. He was tall, blonde, with blue eyes. He had a wife and two sons. It was said that he came from Berlin.

In the beginning, Hamann liquidated the Polish intelligentsia. He would transport them in cars to Marcinkowice, and execute them there. The pharmacist, Jarosz, the merchant, Górka, the doctor’s son, Kozaczko, the judges, Smolik and Barbacki, all died in this manner. Hamann, the chief of Gestapo, was a natural born killer. (…)

In April 1942, in the Court archives, Hamann accidentally discovered a list of the members of the Maks Rosenfeld Library. Before the war all the Jewish inhabitants of Nowy Sącz had used the library. Hamann ordered all who were on the list to be brought to him. There were about 400 people on the list, all the youth, the most beautiful children. “These are all communists!” – Hamman said.

In the prison, he would then arrange a show with them. An orchestra would play for the whole night in the prison court. The young ones were forced to dance. On the ←17 | 18→gallery, the wives of the SS-men would sit together with their children and watch. “This is your dance of death!” – Hamann kept saying to the Jews.

In the morning they were carried handcuffed to the cemetery and shot. (…) After murdering the 400, SS-men got drunk and with drunken singing they entered the Jewish streets, entering the apartments and murdering. 80 people lost their lives that time. The corpses were found in the morning, in the apartments. There were dead mothers lying in their beds with their children by their side. (…) The action was called the “May action” because it was carried out in the beginning of May 1942.14

Already in these testimonies by two young women who came from the same town, we can delineate several functions of music which are typical of this period of genocide on occupied Polish territories. The omnipresence of the sadistic usage of music by the perpetrators, as demonstrated in this book, is a symptom of their systemic character. Because music linked with torture was used by the Nazis along the lines of a similar scenario, it is necessary to investigate how such patterns were instilled in German functionaries so that it became not only acceptable, justifiable, or even praiseworthy to kill to the sound of music and to make the victims play and dance before their death. The reasons of this profound need of music as a decorum of genocide for the perpetrators have to be understood in order to contextualize the Nazi use of propaganda through classical music played in concert halls and opera houses throughout occupied Poland. It is also important to explain why musical abilities of certain human beings constituted a decisive factor for their survival.

Thanks to the musical abilities of Zofia Ryś her life was spared. She became a famous, respected actress after the war (known under her name Rysiówna). The famous Viennese conductor, Alma Rosé (1906 Vienna – 1944 KL Auschwitz), from a prestigious musical family (Gustav Mahler was her uncle), was transported from Drancy to Birkenau because she was Jewish. She was allowed to live because she was admired for her music by German guards and needed as a professional conductor of the women’s Kapelle there. Thanks to this function she could save some women who played an instrument, because they were more useful for the camp authorities and their status was higher than that of an average, disposable KL prisoner. For this multi-ethnic ensemble she arranged her version of In mir klingt ein Lied, based on Chopin’s E major Etude Op. 10 No. 3.15 They ←18 | 19→played it for themselves inside their barrack, just as the male orchestra in Birkenau. The significance of this music will be discussed in greater depth in chapter three in the context of usage of Chopin’s music as an element of propagandistic appropriation. It might be tempting to think of this song as bringing comfort to the prisoners, appeasing conflicts, and forming a sense of unity. In Remnants of Auschwitz, Giorgio Agamben went even as far as imagining that a soccer match played by SS and Sonderkommando members could constitute a “moment of normalcy.”16 Helena Dunicz-Niwińska, who played violin in the Kapelle, towards the end of her life suggested reconstructing Alma Rosé’s arrangement to honour this heroic conductor on the 70th anniversary of her death.17 When, according to her wish, the recording was produced and she read the draft of my commentary to it, she warned me against any such naïve and superficial ideas, stressing that playing the Chopin Etude in a Birkenau barrack did not, after all, contribute to any sense of community.18

←19 | 20→

Nonetheless, numerous accounts demonstrate that specific songs and music had the power of uniting and uplifting their spirits even at the threshold of death – it represented the victims’ dignity and identity. As Rena Anisfeld remembered from Auschwitz: “One time I saw a truck filled with naked men. They were going to a gas chamber. They were singing Hatikwa” (a traditional Zionist song which later became the national anthem of Israel). This testimony corresponds with the account by a former member of the Sonderkommando who reported that the song was spontaneously sung by Czech Jews at the entrance to the Auschwitz-Birkenau gas chamber in 1944. While singing they were beaten by Waffen-SS guards.19 This ethical power of music is why German functionaries filled the mouths of the condemned with lime before their execution to prevent them from singing the Polish anthem at the last moment before their death, especially if the execution was taking place in the city streets, so that it would be unheard by witnesses. They did not take such great pains over French women transported in an open truck to the gas chamber in Auschwitz who were singing La Marseillaise. In several other sources, we find information that camp prisoners were killed or beaten by the guards for singing songs about hope such as the Hatikvah and the Polish anthem.20

The multicultural character of inter-war Poland, after it regained independence in 1918, is reflected in demographic data. Musicians’ sensibilities and the repertoires they created were forged in this melting pot, enlivened by various, sometimes conflicting, cultural, ideological, and political currents. Therefore, musical and poetic expression contained in anthems – the symbolic representation of national identity – of persecuted nations such as Poles, Jews and Ukrainians naturally bear similarities, as they shared the same geopolitical space, similar fates, and their traditional music has so many themes and melodies in common that often it is impossible to narrow down their identity to one single source.21

According to the 1931 census, the Polish language was spoken by 68.9 per cent of the population; 8,6 per cent spoke Yiddish and Hebrew; 10,1 – Ukrainian; 3,8 – Ruthenian; 3,1 – Belorussian; 2,3 – German; 0,4 – Russian; other – 2,8. In ←20 | 21→the cities the major languages were Polish (68,3); Yiddish and Hebrew (24,3), whereas in the countryside the majority spoke Polish (69,1), Ukrainian (13,1), Ruthenian (4,9) and Belorussian (4,1). Yiddish and Hebrew were spoken in the countryside by only 2,6 per cent of the population. 70,5 per cent of Varsovians spoke Polish, 28,5 per cent spoke Yiddish and Hebrew. In the towns of the Łódź region only 80,1 per cent were Polish speakers, 16,6 – Yiddish and Hebrew speakers, and 5,9 – German speakers. In the countryside of the Łódź region – 92,7 spoke Polish, 3,9 spoke Yiddish and Hebrew and 4,9 were German speakers. In the towns of the Lublin region – 61,8 per cent spoke Polish, and 37,5 – Yiddish and Hebrew. In the East, in the towns of the Białystok region – 56,9 per cent spoke Polish and 38,0 – Yiddish and Hebrew. In the tows of the Vilnius region 63,0 per cent spoke Polish and 28,9 – Yiddish and Hebrew, 5,5 – Lithuanian, 3,7 – Russian, 3,0 – Belorussian, while in the countryside – 58,8 per cent spoke Polish, 27,8 – Belorussian, 3,3 – Yiddish and Hebrew and 6,6 – Lithuanian. In the Volhynia region, only 16,6 per cent of the population spoke Polish, 68 per cent – Ukrainian and 9,9 per cent – Yiddish and Hebrew; and in the town: 27,5 per cent, 16,1 per cent and 48,6 per cent respectively. In the Lvov region 57,7 – spoke Polish, 18,5 – Ukrainian, 15,6 – Ruthenian and 7,4 – Yiddish and Hebrew. According to the same census the religious affiliation of the inhabitants of Poland was as follows: 64,8 per cent – Roman Catholic, 10,4 – Greek Catholic, 11,8 – Orthodox, 9,8 – Judaic, 2,6 – Evangelical, other Christian – 0,5, unspecified – 0,1. A comparison of census data in 1939 and in 1950 tells us more about what happened with the population within the borders of Poland. It was estimated at 35.l million in 1939. The first post-war census took place in 1946, during mass forced displacements of the population. According to the 1950 census, treated as more reliable, there were 25 million inhabitants of the Polish state. These figures demonstrate that Poland as a result of the Second World War lost about 10 million inhabitants, due to population losses, territorial changes, and displacements. Given the natural increase of the population between 1939–1950, the actual losses should be regarded as even higher. The population of Warsaw decreased by 63 per cent (1 289 000 in 1939 vs. 479 000 in 1946), whereas in Krakow the population actually increased, because the city’s infrastructure was largely undamaged and many of those who fled from other places or were liberated from the camps settled there (259 000 vs. 299 000). In Białystok, only 53 per cent of the pre-war population remained (107 000 vs. 57 000).22

←21 | 22→

Nazi German and Soviet invaders – after having disposed of local intelligentsia through extermination, in the case of the Nazis, and through deportations in the case of the Soviets – skilfully used all propagandistic, administrative, and legal means to undermine the traditional values which allowed for coexistence of the multicultural inhabitants in Polish territories for centuries. Most importantly, however, they introduced the divide et impera strategy they had already effectively used against the citizens of their own countries. In the 1930s, they had managed to apply mind control techniques to master social engineering, to manipulate and terrorize their own respective societies in order to establish the tight control of one party. Both Nazi and Communist parties trained their members to become not only docile but also internally motivated, in order to transform them into the absolute believers and unhuman functionaries of the system. The indoctrination was so efficacious that it crushed the traditional moral values and superseded them with the immoral ethos of party goals. Animosities which constitute an intrinsic part of any multicultural community were deftly used to play one group against another. In the Eastern territories which first went under the Soviet and then under the German occupation, these methods incited local populations to genocide, with its most extreme form in Volhynia. It happened not because of the conflicts of different ethnic groups having their own different political interests, but because the two totalitarian systems, which had annihilated the Polish state along with its judiciary system, subjected these groups to complex manipulation techniques in order to attain their goals and to save on ammunition and military effort. This is why the new jurisdiction was introduced first and then the lists of those who broke these immoral laws (for example, by trying to protect the Jews from death) and were “punished” by death were publicly displayed, printed on frivolous pink posters in order to humiliate the victims (See Appendix). This is also the reason why music was needed to enhance the differences in the status of different divided groups. Thus, concerts and opera performances for German or Ukrainian audiences in Lvov were also marketed on posters in appropriate language versions (See Appendix). The voices of the victims were to be annihilated just as the victims themselves.

The victims, however, responded to the persecutions with their own songs. As Ruth Rubin (1906–2000), a Canadian singer and scholar of Yiddish music, wrote in her 1963 book entitled Voices of a People,

←22 |

As she wrote, the songs constituted a chronicle of the tragic experiences. According to her, they were also “one of the important weapons” that were “often flaunted courageously in the face of the invaders.”24 Ruth Rubin quoted from song collections published just after the war, mainly the one by the Yiddish poet, musician and resistance fighter from Vilna, Shmerke Kaczerginski (1908–1954), entitled Lider fun di getos un lagern.25 She described and quoted their texts and music and enumerated several psychological and social roles of these songs:

Laments, dirges, topical ballads were created by the people, in which they described the terrible torture inflicted upon them by the German invaders. One such song chronicles the German attack on June 21, 1941, “at five o’clock in the morning,” and before the sun rose “infants were slaughtered before their mothers’ eyes,” people were driven from their homes and buried alive, and Jewish maidens brought to shame.

This tragic period was marked by a new though brief burst of anonymous song creativity among the people, and the following lament, reminiscent of the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century martyrologies when the Ukrainian Haydamak hordes overran Jewish communities with fire and sword, is an eye-witness account of a young woman who was “married on Tuesday and on the following Sabbath, early in the morning, the hitsls were leading us to our death and the river ran red with our blood.” Here are two stances of this topical ballad:

←23 | 24→

Me hot nit geshoynt nit kayn al, nit kayn jung,

Bam foter aroysgerisn hot men di tsung,

Di muter derdushet in hoyf afn mist

Un opgehakt dort ba di shvester di brist.

Mayn man hot men shpiln genoyt auf der fleyt,

Me hot im bagrobn, oy, lebedukerheyt,


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2023 (March)
Warsaw ghetto Music as resistance Music in death camps Generalgouvernment Philharmonics Soviet-Nazi occupation Holocaust and genocide
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2023. 354 pp., 69 fig. b/w, 2 tables.

Biographical notes

Katarzyna Naliwajek (Author)

Katarzyna Naliwajek, PhD, works at the Institute of Musicology, University of Warsaw, Poland. She has focused her research on music during the Nazi-Soviet occupation of Poland, Polish music in the 20th century, and connections between music and politics.


Title: Sounds of Apocalypse
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356 pages