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Music and Genocide

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Edited By Wojciech Klimczyk and Agata Świerzowska

At first glance, no two experiences could be further apart than genocide and music. Yet real, live culture usually goes beyond rational divisions. It is now fairly commonly known that art is not absent from the sites of mass killings. Both victims and prosecutors engage in artistic activities in prisons and camps, as well as at other places where genocides take place. What is the music of genocide? Can the experience of ultimate terror be expressed in music? How does music reflect on genocide? How do we perceive music after genocide? What is music and what is silence in a world marked by mass killings? Is post-genocidal silence really possible or appropriate? The goal of the volume is to reveal and, maybe even to some extent, resolve the most profound dilemma that was expressed by Theodor W. Adorno when he asked «whether it is even permissible for someone who accidentally escaped and by all rights ought to have been murdered, to go on living after Auschwitz.» It is not for the sake of pure curiosity that the relation between music and genocide is examined. In a sense we are all survivors who accidentally escaped genocide. It might have happened to us. It may still happen.
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The Functions of Music within the Nazi System of Genocide in Occupied Poland

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Introduction. The Social, Psychological, Ethical, Historical Aspects of Music within the Nazi System of Detention and Extermination

Some of the fundamental questions raised when one attempts to define the roles of music within a genocidal context, can partly be answered by investigating the functions fulfilled by music in the multifarious Nazi system of genocide implemented from September 1939 on the territory of occupied Poland. Music was used and exploited by the Nazis in various ways in these formerly Polish territories, divided into three parts: the so-called “General Governement” (Generalgouvernement für die besetzten polnischen Gebiete), the Reich-annexed territories and the USSR-annexed territories.1 It is however the omnipresence of music and the complexity of roles it played at the scene of mass-murder and maltreatment such as Nazi prisons, ghettos, concentration and death camps, which poses the most challenging questions for the researcher – just as for any human being, who can barely fathom the possibility of relation between a scene of mass killing and music – notably if we adhere to the notion of music conceived primarily as art-form with its own intrinsic or historically attributed ethical qualities.

Although in most accounts from these scenes of detention, torture and genocide, the topic of music might seem a marginal one, often not surfacing at all, hidden under the more salient description of suffering and extermination, the high importance placed on music both by prisoners and by the Nazi authorities, has drawn the attention of scholars, particularly during the...

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