Music Professor Milewski Produces Collection of WWII Concentration Camp Songs
Music Professor Milewski Produces
Collection of WWII Concentration Camp Songs
by Alisa Giardinelli
Aleksander Kulisiewicz survived five years in a German concentration camp, secretly writing and singing dozens of songs to help inmates cope with and document their horrific conditions. Now a collection of those songs, in renditions never before available on CD, is available on a newly issued recording due in large part to the efforts of a Swarthmore College music professor.
"Music-making in the camps was a form of psychological survival," says Assistant Professor of Music Barbara Milewski, co-producer and translator of the annotated disc Ballads and Broadsides: Songs from Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp 1940-1945. "Kulisiewicz believed music saved his life."
After his arrest by the Gestapo for anti-fascist writings, Aleksander Kulisiewicz (1918-1982) was sent to Sachsenhausen concentration camp near Berlin. Milewski says the songs he wrote there are a form of "musical reportage" that, among other things, relate the history of various Nazi victim groups - Jews, Communists, homosexuals, Gypsies, high-profile Polish intellectuals - revealing a "certain interconnectedness among their lives and experiences" in the camp.
After the war, Kulisiewicz worked first as a journalist, then eventually devoted himself entirely to documenting the music of the camps. Ultimately, he collected over 500 songs from 34 camps - "a remarkable archive," Milewski says.
Assistant Professor of Music Barbara Milewski
"Even 10 years ago, there was not much talk about music in the camps," says Milewski, who wrote her dissertation on Chopin but whose research now focuses on music of the Nazi concentration camps. "In part, there was a concern that to speak of cultural life in the death camps might diminish the tragedy. But thanks to the broader dissemination of the music of Terezin, the camp where so many gifted artists were imprisoned, there is greater interest in the subject today."
Milewski, who joined Swarthmore's music faculty in 2004, conducted research in Poland on a Fulbright fellowship last year. She is currently working on a book that explores the musical-poetic activities of prisoners in three Nazi camps: Birkenau, Sachsenhausen, and Buchenwald.
Milewski, along with co-producer and U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum musicologist Bret Werb, has worked in and around the Museum's KulisiewiczCollection for more than 15 years, largely archiving, translating documents, and making materials available to the public. Ballads and Broadsides, accompanied by a 60-page booklet that includes original Polish texts, English translations, and archival illustrations, is available from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Shop and online from iTunes.