In music, imprisoned Jews found comfort, dignity and sometimes a lifeline

Author-neurologist Oliver Sacks observed in “Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain” that music carries a matchless power to soothe, heal, inspire, induce a smile, transform despair to hope. All this, he writes, despite the fact that music by itself “has no power to represent anything particular or external.” Instead, “it has a unique power to express inner states or feelings.” …

Brown, a professor of music at Milligan University in northeastern Tennessee, writes that “spontaneous music-making in the form of singing happened frequently, in the cattle cars as deportees tried to comfort one another and distract themselves from their own fear and hunger. Once in the camps, some remarked that by singing or humming a tune, they could preserve a piece of their identity.” And because the prisoners needed a way to express the terrible reality of camp life, a new genre of music soon emerged and spread through the prisoner population: lager-lieder (concentration camp songs), whose often bitterly satiric lyrics affirmed solidarity and endurance even while bearing witness to the horrors.

By Diane Cole, The Washington Post

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