Holocaust Memorial Day – commemorate it with music

Last year I blogged about the ‘Holocaust Memorial Day’ in a more general way. Today and this year, I would like to encourage you to commemorate this day with music.

Whereas anti-Semitism, xenophobia and fearing “otherness” have – unfortunately – been part of many Western societies, the term ‘holocaust’, and what it means for us today is a very twentieth-century concept to refer to the systematic approach of murdering people. However, it is wrong to assume that all music relating to ‘holocaust’ must be post 1945.

Michael Tippett wrote A Child of Our Time between 1939 and 1941 as a reaction to the Reichspogromnacht in 1938. (Kristallnacht is the word the Nazis used, and was meant in a positive way, whereas the Russian ‘pogrom’ does not have any ambiguity about the violence and destruction against Jewish citizens and their property in Germany; it is the latter which is used nowadays in Germany). According to David Matthews, Tippett found the African-American spirituals used in his oratorio appropriate, as they expressed a suffering similar to those of the Jews (see the preface of the 2007 Eulenburg edition, pages v and vi, @ UL: M210.b.200.7. At the Pendlebury you can find a recording at classmark: CD.A.163.

Of course, because Tippett was not Jewish, and was observing the atrocities of the 1930s and 1940s from a relatively safe distance, it was perhaps easier for him to write a work which can be perceived not as condoning the Nazis, but rather concentrating on the atrocities themselves.

Sketch of Carlo Taube made by artist Petr Kien in the Terezin ghetto.

Sketch of Carlo Taube made by artist Petr Kien in the Terezin ghetto. Public Domain (Wikimedia Commons)

I briefly mentioned to my colleague Margaret that I was thinking about writing a post for this blog for today, and she gave me an insightful idea. She suggested another angle: commemorating those Jewish composers who died in concentration camps, such as those who perished in Terezin or Auschwitz: Pavel Haas, Gideon Klein, Carlo Taube and Viktor Ullmann. One way of getting an idea of the music which was composed by some of these incredibly talented composers, under unimaginable conditions, is to listen to a CD called Terezin: The Music 1941-1944, which is available at the Pendlebury Library at CD.A.77. Please spare a moment of your time today and think of these composers. Whereas their lives were short, their music can still be listened to, celebrated and remembered.



About cg474

Since August 2010 I have been working as a librarian at the University of Cambridge (Cambridge, UK). Since October 2015 I am the librarian at the Faculty of Divinity Library. Between August 2010 and November 2013 I was the Deputy Head of Music at Cambridge University Library and at the Pendlebury Library of Music. Between December 2013 and September 2015 I was the Librarian at the Marshall Library of Economics. Since October 2015 I have been the Librarian at the Divinity Library.
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3 Responses to Holocaust Memorial Day – commemorate it with music

  1. Very nice post – I wrote about the Holocaust Memorial Day today too. http://littleexplorer.wordpress.com/2011/01/27/arbeit-macht-nicht-frei/

    Just a comment…are you aware about the controversy surrounding the use of the term ‘holocaust’? In fact, this term means sacrifice as if the killings of millions of people had a ‘higher’ purpose or justification. The preferred term is the Hebrew one ‘Shoah’ meaning catastrophe, disaster and destruction.


  2. musicb3 says:

    Thanks for appreciating my post, and also for your point about ‘holocaust’ vs. ‘shoah’. Obviously, I had _heard_ the word ‘shoah’ before, but did not know the original meaning of ‘holocaust’. I’m obviously not using the term in order to imply that the systematic murder of so many Jews served a ‘higher purpose’; I don’t believe in any purpose of any death.

    The Oxford English Dictionary gives the meaning most people know for ‘holocaust’ as
    ‘d. the Holocaust: the mass murder of the Jews by the Nazis in the war of 1939–1945. Also used transf., of the similar fate of other groups; and attrib.’

    In that sense, it might be worthwhile to consider changing today’s name to ‘Day of Remembrance for the Victims of National Socialism’? But maybe that’s a name too long, and maybe such a new name would create other problematic issues.


    • You are right. It is interesting to see that the Oxford Dictionary gives that specific definition to the word ‘Holocaust’ but I suppose it’s correct since in the common usage the term refers to that historical event.

      I actually used the term ‘Holocaust’ in my own post, however I’ve now included my comment to be more correct. The problem is that the UN actually called the 27th Jan the ‘Holocaust Remembrance Day’… Something strange, in my opinion. However, I think that the important thing is to know that the meaning of ‘Shoah’ is different, and I think it evokes more effectively the tragedy of those years.


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