UCL European Institute


Music that survived the Nazis: New BBC Documentary by Shirli Gilbert

17 January 2022

Listen to Prof. Shirli Gilbert's two-part BBC documentary 'Music that survived the Nazis'.

Musicians in concentration camp

From 22 and 29 January onwards, you can listen to the BBC World Service Documentary, Music that survived the Nazis, written and presented by Prof. Shirli Gilbert, UCL. 

Shirli Gilbert is Professor of Modern Jewish History at UCL’s Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies. She is a specialist in modern Jewish history, with particular interest in the Holocaust and its legacies, modern Jewish identity, and Jews in South Africa in UCL’s Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies. She holds a D. Phil in Modern History from the University of Oxford and was a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Society of Fellows at the University of Michigan. Before coming to UCL, she was Karten Professor of Modern History and Director of the Parkes Institute for Jewish/non-Jewish Relations at the University of Southampton. Her book Music in the Holocaust examining the role of music in the Nazi ghettos and camps was a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award and the basis for a large-scale educational website, as well as a documentary on BBC Radio3 and concerts at London’s Wigmore Hall and the Hampstead Arts festival. 

Music that survived the Nazis: Part one

There is a common misconception that music under the Nazis was either ‘Degenerate Music’ to be suppressed or propaganda music that was officially sanctioned. Historian Shirli Gilbert shows that there was a wealth of different music-making during this period, including secret sessions by Jewish musicians and others, that managed to evade official scrutiny.

In this first episode, she explores the music of the Jewish Culture League, as well as the work of Lukraphon and Semer, two Jewish record labels active at this time. This includes a huge range of works recorded in Nazi Germany, from orchestral pieces to cabaret songs to religious singing of enormous beauty. 

Contributors include Alan Bern, Ben Fisher, Martin Goldsmith, Lily Hirsch, Rainer E. Lotz and Sasha Lurje.

Listen to Part One (from 22 January)

Music that survived the Nazis: Part two

Featuring extraordinarily rare recordings, historian Shirli Gilbert presents this new history of life and music under Nazi tyranny. This episode focuses on music-making in the camps and ghettos of Nazi Europe, including stories of music at Sachsenhausen, Vilna and Auschwitz. This includes a wealth of different styles, from Yiddish Tango and rousing camp anthems, to partisan songs and string quartets. Contributors include Lloica Czackis, Krzysztof Kulisiewicz, Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, Dr Astrid Ley and Bret Werb.

Listen to Part Two (from 29 January)

Written and presented by Shirli Gilbert.
Producer: Tom Woolfenden. 
A Loftus Media Production for the BBC World Service.
Ze’ev Lewin archive audio courtesy of the Jewish Museum Berlin.

Image credit: Members of the orchestra at the Janowska concentration camp perform while standing in a circle around the conductor, Yacub Mund, in the Appelplatz (roll call area). Courtesy of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.