Remembering the Holocaust Through Music


World ORT joins a number of prestigious Holocaust remembrance organizations this September in sponsoring a workshop and public performance of music from the Shoah.

The Wiener Holocaust Library, the Yale Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies, the Holocaust Research Institute at Royal Holloway University of London, the Sir Martin Gilbert Learning Centre and the UCL Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies are the fellow collaborators.

World ORT’s Music and the Holocaust website is a world-leading resource which brings to life the story of music and musicians in Europe between 1933 and 1945 – and in particular the stories of musicians, composers and performers. It also explores the ways in which music has been used to commemorate the Holocaust since the end of the war.

The ‘Songs From Testimonies’ project collects and records songs and poems discovered in video testimonies collected over decades in the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimony at Yale.

Renowned musician and educator Zisl Slepovitch took these songs, researched their origins, then arranged and recorded versions with his ensemble, featuring Latvian Yiddish singer Sasha Lurje.

The songs and poems to be performed in London were gathered from a number of testimonies of those who were in ghettos and camps during the Shoah.

During the Holocaust, they were sung individually and collectively, but in survivors’ testimonies they are recounted or performed by individuals. They remind us that the survivor singing them represents those who did not survive to sing again, and of the absence of the original audience.

The London performance will also feature the Yiddish Glory project, including the singer and violinist Alice Zawadzki, bassist Misha Mullov-Abbado, and pianist Bruno Heinen as they bring to life long-lost Yiddish songs.

These previously unknown Yiddish songs were confiscated and hidden by the Soviet government in 1949 and were only discovered by the University of Toronto historian Anna Shternshis in the basement of the Ukrainian National Library in the 1990s. They tell stories of how Soviet Jews lived and died under German occupation, used music to document Nazi atrocities, fought in the Red Army and made sense of it all through Yiddish music.

Their participation in the concert and following symposium will give voice to Soviet Jewish women, children and men who never got to tell their stories, but left us their incredible songs.

Dr Hannah Wilson, Content Director for the Music and the Holocaust website, said: “ORT has developed a reputation for breadth and depth on this subject, prompting the Fortunoff Archive to approach us for their Songs from Testimony initiative.

“We have featured their project on our site with an article and several songs evidenced in video testimony recorded by Holocaust survivors.

“We are delighted to be taking part in this event and in addition to the public performances, I will be presenting at an invite-only symposium to discuss the rediscovery of music in private familial archives, with two recent examples from our site.

Attendance at the performance of Songs from Testimonies and Yiddish Glory is free, but space is limited and registration is required.