Saved: a trove of Jewish music that defied Nazis

Upcoming BBC World Service programme explores rich diversity of Jewish musical life


A rich trove of music created by Jewish artists under the Nazis is to be revealed in a new radio series. 

Presented by Jewish historian Shirli Gilbert of University College London (UCL), Music That Survived The Nazis is inspired by a recently digitised cache of songs recorded by two Jewish labels from Berlin in the Thirties, Semer and Lukraphon.

Both operated legally, but became subject to growing restrictions.

Semer and its founder, Hirsch Lewin, were targeted on Kristallnacht. Moritz Lewin, founder of Lukraphon, fled Germany in 1937.

The recordings were uncovered and restored by expert Rainer Erich Lotz. Prof Gilbert told the JC: 

“Music functions as a fascinating memorial object. It survived in so many different forms and it has a remarkable capacity to be brought back to life and speak to us. 

“It does feel very important as a way of recovering the voices of these victims, how they felt, how they lived, not just at the moment of destruction, but also the rich life before.” 

The series looks at the Jüdischer Kulturbund. Set up in 1933 and shut down in 1941, it staged concerts but was banned from performing for non-Jews or using an “Aryan” repertoire.  There were also Nazi-sanctioned orchestras in concentration camps. Some inmates managed to evade scrutiny to compose songs.

Shmerke Kaczerginski, a partisan fighter, musician and survivor of the Vilnius ghetto, preserved music of the Shoah in a 1948 anthology. Prof Gilbert said: “The allies were interested primarily in what the Nazis had done. But they weren’t interested in what happened to the victims, how they had experienced and responded to what was happening.

“Kaczerginski sees the songs as crucial documents that would fill that gap, would chronicle and  convey that story."

‘Music that Survived the Nazis’, BBC World Service, 12.06pm, Saturday 22 January

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive