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Music and Genocide


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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Afterword: Genocide, Music, and the Name


To begin, to end, by repeating a key point: The question of music and genocide is not the same as the question of music and the Holocaust, though at first it may seem otherwise. There are good reasons for that. A certain classical music, at any rate, shadowed the Nazi barbarity because of the unique place this music was felt, perhaps above all by the victims, to hold in European life, especially German life; because the Nazis systematically sought to purge music and music history from “degenerate” Jewish influence; because from the outset, with the war barely ended, music was part of Holocaust memory—literally in Arnold Schoenberg’s A Survivor from Warsaw (1947), figuratively in Paul Celan’s “Todesfuge” (1948); because such memory could even take the form of the future tense inside the concentration camps: Viktor Ullmann’s The Emperor of Atlantis (Terezin,1943; first performed 1975).

To the extent that the Holocaust remains the paradigm of all genocide, this relationship is unavoidable and inexhaustible. The dismal genius of the Nazis was to make genocide neither an event nor even a program but a system. The system was unique, but one of its unintended consequences was to expose system as the hidden principle on which all genocides rely. Genocide never just happens. No wonder, then, that the Holocaust has already taken up more space here than my opening sentence should have allowed, and that it will take up more below. It has necessarily played a majority role...

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