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Holocaust-Related Music: A Melancholic Symphony of Remembrance

The Holocaust, one of the most horrific events in human history, has been a source of inspiration for many artists seeking to memorialize its victims and educate future generations about its atrocities. Music, with its profound ability to express emotions and tell stories, has played a significant role in this endeavor. Many composers have been influenced by the Holocaust, creating poignant works that capture the unimaginable horrors and the indomitable spirit of those who endured.

Prominent figures in Holocaust-related music include Arnold Schoenberg, a leading figure in the Second Viennese School, who composed “A Survivor from Warsaw” in 1947 as a testament to the resilience of those who survived the Warsaw Ghetto. Krzysztof Penderecki, known for his avant-garde style, wrote “Dies Irae” (also known as the “Auschwitz Oratorio”), a well-known work written in memory of the Holocaust. Renowned Soviet composer Dmitri Shostakovich’s Thirteenth Symphony “Babi Yar” is a chilling reflection on the massacre of Jews at the Babi Yar ravine during World War II. Gideon Klein, a Czech composer who was murdered by the Nazis at the age of 25, wrote music during his time at the Terezin concentration camp, serving as a poignant reminder of the creative spirit that endured even in the darkest of times. Viktor Ullmann, another composer who was incarcerated at the Terezin concentration camp, continued to compose music during his time there, with his works serving as a testament to the power of art and the human spirit. These composers and their works serve as a powerful reminder of the Holocaust and its impact on humanity, with their music continuing to resonate, providing a haunting echo of a tragic past and a call to remember and learn from history.

holocaust-related music
holocaust-related music

Lior Navok: Echoing the Trains of History

Among the contemporary composers who have contributed significantly to Holocaust-related music is Lior Navok, an Israeli classical composer, conductor, and pianist. Navok’s music often draws inspiration from events and phenomena he encounters in life and in history. His compositions are known for their emotional depth, innovative sonorities, and the ability to engage audiences.

Navok has composed two notable works related to the Holocaust: “And the Trains Kept Coming…” and “Found in a Train Station.”

Duration: 44 minutes

Instrumentation: Tenor solo, bass-baritone solo, two narrators, boy-soprano, choir and orchestra (with additional soprano and alto from within the choir)

Lior Navok’s “And the Trains Kept Coming…” is a poignant reflection on the Holocaust, exploring the Allies’ knowledge and inaction. The piece dives into the gradual revelation of the Nazi death camps’ horrors, the Allies’ struggle with war, and their failure to halt the genocide despite intelligence reports and testimonies. Navok questions why no action was taken to bomb the death camps, even when Allied planes flew overhead. His research into confidential correspondences revealed a shocking bureaucratic indifference, with victims seen as mere numbers. The piece contrasts this cold efficiency with the horrific efficiency of the Nazi’s train schedules, symbolizing a twisted perversion of freedom. Amidst this, Navok highlights the individual suffering, drawing from heart-wrenching testimonies and farewell notes from prisoners. The work, structured as rapidly changing un-staged scenes, blurs the lines between good and bad, reflecting survivors’ sentiments. While focusing on the Holocaust, the piece also underscores humanity’s ongoing ability to ignore others’ suffering, from genocides to homelessness.

Genre: Vocal music composition for soprano and ensemble

Duration: 11:30 minutes

Instrumentation: Soprano, mandolin, clarinet, violin, cello and piano

Lior Navok’s “Found in a Train Station” is a deeply moving composition inspired by a note found at a Polish train station during the Holocaust. The note, written by a mother about to board a train to her doom, was attached to her abandoned child in the hope of rescue. The music captures the mother’s tumultuous emotions - her racing thoughts, passivity, pent-up anger, regret, and hope - as she grapples with her heart-wrenching decision.


Through these works, Navok has made a significant contribution to Holocaust-related music. His compositions serve as a powerful reminder of the past and a call to remember and learn from history. They stand as a testament to the power of music to bear witness to our shared humanity, even in the face of unimaginable atrocities.


THEMES Holocaust-Related Music





Arnold Schoenberg

Krzysztof Penderecki

Dmitri Shostakovich

Gideon Klein

Viktor Ullmann


Babi Yar




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