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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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Towards a Critical Understanding of Representational and Semantic Issues within Hanns Eisler’s Score for Nuit et Brouillard (1955)

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Nuit et Brouillard (1955) is a Holocaust documentary film by Alain Resnais. It was commissioned in May 1955 by the Comité d’Histoire de la Déportation de la Seconde Guerre Mondiale and completed in December of the same year.1

Joshua Hirsch establishes the film’s reputation in After Image: Film, Trauma and the Holocaust as “one of the most highly regarded Holocaust films.”2 Annette Insdorf, in her introduction to Indelible Shadows: Film and the Holocaust reinforces its effectiveness by exclaiming that “whenever I show Night and Fog in my courses, students are shocked and profoundly moved, for it is generally their first encounter with the palpable images of Auschwitz.”3 The film has a running time of just 32 minutes and is presented as a sequence of visual montages in colour and black-and-white, accompanied by a narration and musical soundtrack.

Holocaust survivor Jean Cayrol, a former Mauthausen concentration camp prisoner, proved invaluable to Resnais for the creation of the screenplay, ensuring that the film had a “guarantee of authenticity”.4 The screenplay was narrated by Michel Bouquet. Resnais was adamant that the film should “tell the truth” and not be “yet another monument to the dead”.5 Resnais intended the film to be accessible for all, stating in an interview that “With Night and Fog, it was my wish to make a film likely to reach a wide audience.”6

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