Syllabus: ‘Music and the Holocaust’

Here’s the first of a few posts where I share my updated course syllabuses ahead of the coming academic year.

This is from a 2nd-year music history course, where I get to teach one half (five weeks). Previously, we focused on one set work which we approached from several methodological angles (my set work was Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring). This year, we decided to take a broader view. Here is my overview for five weeks on ‘Music and the Holocaust’:


The Holocaust is one of the most significant events in human history. In five weeks, we cannot possibly cover anything near the entire history of music and the Holocaust; we can, however, examine how music in the Holocaust highlights several issues that have ramifications for our understanding of music history and historiography in general, and it is these questions that we will be focusing on. Throughout this block, we require the utmost respect and compassion in discussions from you and in your work: this is a difficult subject to explore, and in each session, we will cover horrific events and explore uncomfortable questions. It is also vital that we consider our mental health and support for each other in discussing these painful subjects. We study this topic and ask these questions in order to learn more about ourselves, and to learn more about the reasons why we play, write, and think about music in the present day.

Week 1 – Historical Overview

Essential Reading:

  • Zygmunt Bauman, Modernity and the Holocaust (Introduction)
  • Michael Rothberg, Multidirectional Memory: Remembering the Holocaust in the Age of Decolonization (Introduction)

Background Reading: Laurence Rees, The Holocaust: A New History, (Introduction)

Additional task:

On the Saturday after the first lecture, we will run a first for the Music department: an online interactive screening of Claude Lanzmann’s groundbreaking 1985 film Shoah. The film collects testimony from a range of survivors into a moving and complex journey through the Holocaust. It took eleven years to make, and is over nine hours long. We will host an online screening, with a chat-board to discuss the film while we are watching it.

(optional alternative assignment: contact me for details):

Students to produce a commentary on select transcripts from the film, utilising the following academic text:


Week 2 – Music-making in the Holocaust: Theresienstadt and Auschwitz

Essential Reading:

  • Michael Beckerman, ‘Listening in the Grey Zone’, chapter in David Fanning and Erik Levi (eds), The Routledge Handbook to Music under German Occupation (London: Routledge, 2019).
  • Gilbert, Music in the Holocaust, Chapter 4, ‘Fragments of Humanity: Music in Auschwitz’

Background Reading:

  • Dana Villa, ‘Genealogies of Total Domination: Arendt, Adorno, and Auschwitz’, New German Critique (Winter 2007) 34(1): 1-45.
  • Karel Margry, ‘Theresienstadt (1944–1945): The Nazi propaganda film depicting the concentration camp as paradise’, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, Vol. 12, No. 2 (1992), 145-162.

Week 3 – Spiritual Resistance and Survivor’s Guilt

  • Primo Levi, Gilbert Introduction
  • Touring Holocaust Orchestra of the late 1940s

Essential Reading:

  • Gilbert, Music in the Holocaust, Introduction
  • Adler, Eliyana R., ‘No Raisins, No Almonds: Singing as Spiritual Resistance to the Holocaust’, Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies 24, no. 4 (2006): 50-66.

Background Reading:

  • Ruth Leys, From Guilt to Shame: Auschwitz and After, Chapter 1, ‘Survivor Guilt’, and Chapter 2, ‘Dismantling Survivor Guilt’
  • Joseph Toltz and Anna Boucher, ‘Out of the Depths: Complexity, Subjectivity and Materiality in the Earliest Accounts of Holocaust Song-Making’, East-European Jewish Affairs, 48/3 (2018) 309-330.

Week 4 – Memory and memoir (Music and Trauma)

  • Memory and testimony
  • Lasker-Wallfisch and Fénelon

Essential Reading:

  • Tony Kushner, ‘Holocaust Testimony, Ethics, and the Problem of Representation’, Poetics Today, Volume 27, No. 2 (2006), 275-295.
  • Shirli Gilbert, ‘Music as Historical Source: Social History and Musical Texts’, International Review of the Aesthetics and Sociology of Music, 36/1 (2005), 117-134.

Background Reading:

  • Dylan Trigg, ‘The place of trauma: Memory, hauntings, and the temporality of ruins’, Memory Studies, 2/1 (2009), 87-101.
  • Timothy D. Neale, ‘”The credentials that would rescue me”: Trauma and the Fraudulent Survivor’, Holocaust and Genocide Studies, 24/3 (2010), 431-448.
  • Jack Kugelmass, Jonathan Boyarin and Zachary M. Baker, ‘Introduction’, From a Ruined Garden: The Memorial Books of Polish Jewry
  • Anita Shapira, ‘The Holocaust: Private Memories, Public Memory’, Jewish Social Studies, 4/2 (1998) 40-58.
  • Susan Eischeid, The Truth about Fania Fénelon and the Women’s Orchestra of Auschwitz-Birkenau (London, Palgrave Macmillan, 2016).

Week 5 – Music in memoriam

            Adorno – ‘poetry and barbarism’

            Weinberg, The Passenger

            Reich, Different Trains

Górecki, Third Symphony

            The Terezin ‘Defiant Requiem’

Essential Reading:

  • Ben Arnold, ‘Art, Music and the Holocaust’ in Holocaust and Genocide Studies, 6/4 (1991), 335-349.
  • Antony Rowland, ‘Re-reading “Impossibility” and “Barbarism”: Adorno and Post-Holocaust Poetics’, Critical Survey, 9/1 (1997), 57-69.

Background Reading:

General Bibliography (to be expanded)

Szymon Laks – Music of Another World

Fania Fenelon

Anita Lasker-Wallfisch

Wlodarski, Musical Witness and Holocaust Representation

Haas, Forbidden Music

Ben Arnold, ‘Art Music and the Holocaust’ article

Music in Concentration Camps volume

Boswell, Holocaust Impiety

Fanning and Levi, Music Under German Occupation

Karas, Music in Terezin

Deborah Lipstadt, Denying the Holocaust

Daniel Elphick, Music Behind the Iron Curtain: Weinberg and his Polish Contemporaries (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019).

Key Works:

Pavel Haas, Gideon Klein, Schoenberg Survivor from Warsaw, Górecki Symphony 3, Weinberg The Passenger, Shostakovich Babi Yar, Reich Different Trains, Captain Beefheart ‘Dachau Blues’,

2 thoughts on “Syllabus: ‘Music and the Holocaust’”

  1. Hi Daniel.

    It is very good to know that you are teaching this course. It is of particular interest to me because my father was a holocaust survivor. Probably you know about the annual Brundibar Festival which (when there isn’t a pandemic) takes place in Newcastle?

    I wondered whether you thought of including Roma and Sinti music in your syllabus?

    Kind regards,


    1. Dear Marilyn,

      Thank you for your comment. I’m familiar with the Newcastle Brundibar Festival (a shame that it’s had to be postponed this year!)

      The syllabus doesn’t include very much detail of the actual music covered on the course. One of our main case studies in week 2 of the module is a Roma song, documented and sang by an Auschwitz survivor, so there are some examples on the course.

      In only 5 weeks of teaching it is, of course, extremely difficult to reach anything like an all-encompassing overview, but I have tried to present a variety of songs and music examples.

      All best,



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