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June 16, 2017

After 70 years, voices of Holocaust survivors sing again

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  • When the concentration camps of Europe were liberated at the end of World War II, David Boder, a psychologist from Chicago, recorded interviews with dozens of former prisoners. 
  • Holocaust prisoners had no way of writing about their experiences. Instead, they used songs as a form of oral tradition.
  • A set of reels containing songs sung to Boder by the survivors at a camp in France went missing for 70 years until it was discovered at the University of Akron in Ohio.
  • Media specialists at the University of Akron spent three years building a playback machine from spare parts so they could ascertain what the reels contained. They discovered that the set of reels was the long-lost collection of songs recorded by Boder.
  • In one song, sung by Guta Frank, she changed the lyric “Our village is burning” to “The Jewish people are burning.” Frank also mentioned in the interview that the composer’s daughter would sing the song in the basements of the Krakow ghetto, calling on others to rebel against the Nazis.

  1. Essential question: What can historical songs tell us about the past and the people who sung them?
  2. What can a recording of a real person’s voice tell you about a particular historical time period that a textbook or written document cannot?
  3. How did songs and music help Holocaust survivors communicate?
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