Music of the Concentration Camp Theresienstadt

"Kulturwille ist Lebenswille" - the legacy of the composers in Theresienstadt concentration camp"

Theresienstadt, Terezin in Czech, became a synonym for the greatest propaganda lie of the Nazi regime. The inmates of the camp were mainly the cultural Jewish elite of Czechoslovakia, Germany and Holland.  Artists, actors, writers, composers, musicians and other intellectuals found themselves together with a large number of elderly people, under inhuman conditions.

The cultural activities in the camp were at the beginning hidden from the Germans.  Later on, when the camp was declared a "Jüdisches Siedlungsgebiet" (Jewish settlement area), the Germans more or less allowed cultural activities.  During 1942 the activities were fully legalized when the Germans realized that the cultural activities could be used for propaganda purposes.

The inmates of Theresienstadt received the cynical privilege to be allowed to entertain the other prisoners until their death. The prisoners, children and adults alike, were forced to produce and participate in the notorious propaganda film about the concentration camp, directed by Kurt Gerron.  The time and effort put into this diversionary tactic eventually succeeded in convincing the outside world about the "perfect conditions in the camp" when in the summer of 1944 a delegation of the Red Cross came for an inspection.  The world was completely taken in by this cruel hoax. In reality the prisoners were barely surviving, suffering from hunger, hard work and disease.

The composers succeeded in writing, rehearsing and performing live music and songs under the most inhumane conditions. They continued their cultural activities being aware of the always looming threat of the "east transports", which meant a certain death.

The lecture deals primarily with the works composed by Viktor Ullmann, Gideon Klein, Ilse Weber, Carlo Siegmund Taub, Viktor Ullmann, Hans Krasa, Pavel Haas as well as the works for cabaret by Leo Strauss and Karel Svenk.

This lecture is also available as a special version for students

Ruth Frenk recently published the lead article:

1942 - 1944"

in the November/December issue of the Journal of Singing, the leading American magazine published by the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS).

Click here to read the full article.