In the concentration camps and ghettos of Nazi-occupied Europe, Jews wrote songs to maintain a sense of dignity in the face of relentless dehumanisation, pass the time, and satirise the enemy. Mostly written in Yiddish, these songs often drew upon extant Jewish folk tunes but added new messages pertinent to the harsh times and conditions. Out of the Depths: The First Holocaust Songbookprovides a translation and analysis of what is believed to be the first published collection of songs written by Jews of the concentration camps of Poland, Ukraine and Lithuania during the Second World War and published shortly thereafter in June 1945 by survivors near a refugee camp in Bucharest, Romania.
This seminar paper analyses and performs several of the songs from this songbook. It also draws upon original archival research in Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Centre in Israel and interviews conducted with remaining song authors and their descendants in Israel to trace the post-World War Two emigration of Europe’s Holocaust survivors. This research demonstrates that contrary to historical depictions of post-war Jewish refugee flows that cast such migration as facilitated by robust and established international laws, such migration was often ad hoc, illegal, dangerous and where permitted, generally on discretionary grounds.