Holocaust Educational Trust Ambassador Blog

Creative Responses to music and the Holocaust

When discussing the theme for this edition of the newsletter ‘post-liberation’, we were inspired by the idea to focus on songs and their links to liberation during the Holocaust. As Professor of Modern Jewish History at UCL, Shirli Gilbert argues “songs were recognised as playing an integral role, both as historical sources … to reconstruct what happened, and as artefacts that could preserve the voices, and thereby the memory, of the victims”. This highlights the importance of songs in preserving the voices of the Holocaust and how song acts as an insight into the mentalities of the Jewish people persecuted. In particular how they resisted, and how they felt during liberation.

In our creative responses, we were inspired to use the sheet music of the liberation songs as backgrounds to our artwork to convey the sense of permanence that is created when experiences are recorded on paper. By pairing this with the artwork that symbolises the song, we hope to encourage people to ‘see’ the music and look further into its significance and lyrics.

Zog nit keyn mol (The Partisans’ song)

You can listen to a version of the song and read the English lyrics here.

This song was written in 1943 by Hirsh Glick whilst he was imprisoned in the Vilna Ghetto. His inspiration to write this song came following the news of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising in 1943. This song became a symbol of resistance during the war and was adopted by a number of Jewish partisan groups operating in Eastern Europe.

The song is powerful and full of optimism, and discusses Jewish suffering past and present (in 1943). It urged the Jewish people to continue their fight for freedom, and evokes recurring imagery of resistance and hope.

Hevenu Shalom Aleichem

Inspired by the joyful and simple nature of Hevenu Shalom Aleichem, I drew families and children playing on the music. I tried to draw lyrically and intertwine the bodies with the lines of the music to represent how the music lives within Jewish culture and identity. Each collection of people is accompanied with the translation of Hevenu Shalom Aleichem – We Brought Peace Upon You, to show how each individual and their relationships had been established by the simple ideas conveyed of peace and faith.

Hevenu Shalom Aleichem is not exclusively a Holocaust song. Its literal translation means ‘We bring peace upon you’, and it is one of the best-known and best-loved Hebrew Folk songs and continues to be sung today. As the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum suggests, music was a way for the Jewish people during the war to preserve and reassert their humanity.

Click here to listen to a recording of a version of this song by surviving Polish children in Postwar France.

Hevenu Shalom Aleichem

The above is a recording from April 2020 1945, of Jewish survivors of Bergen-Belsen singing Hatikvah five days after their liberation.

I was inspired by the lyrics in Hatvika ‘Our hope is not yet lost, It is two thousand years old, To be a free people in our land, The land of Zion and Jerusalem.’ This song later became the national anthem of Israel and represents the hope and power the Zionist movement provided for some Jews. I decided to create the holy site of Temple Mount in Jerusalem within the music to establish their connection. By framing the temple within the arches, I hoped to create the sense of an onlooker looking upwards towards the temple and hoping for the sight of freedom and safety.

By Nicole Wu and Jasper Hawkes