It’s rather eerie to be driving through fog and have, as your only aural accompaniment, a crackling, vibrato-heavy recording of a man singing a composition written for and performed to the inhabitants of a 1940s Jewish ghetto. To then be told that this particular person was murdered by the Nazis in a concentration camp a few years later merely added to the feeling. An entirely narcissistic response, it’s true, but then the contention of Shirli Gilbert’s excellent programme was that the music created during the Holocaust creates a more personal connection than virtually anything else.
A surprising amount of material about the music of those persecuted and then murdered by the Nazis has survived either in contemporary recordings or notes, or in the thousands of hours of tapes collected by determined men in the days, months and years after the liberation of the camps. Some of the tunes are, as you would expect, downbeat but most are cut through with either defiance or hope. A select handful seem to have made their way into either the classical or folk canons in the years subsequently but, sadly, far too many languish now unheard. And that was Gilbert’s parting shot: people made this music to feel alive in some way in the midst of an industrialised, dehumanising, killing programme. We should make time to seek it out, not out of duty, but because this music and its stories are vital in the truest sense of the word.
A good place to start looks to be here. And I shall be following several of the other leads Gilbert mentioned in this compelling Sunday Feature.