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Orchestras of Auschwitz 

LONG-FORGOTTEN MUSICAL COMPOSITIONS AND ARRANGEMENTS BY HOLOCAUST PRISONERS HAVE BEEN RESCUED FROM OBSCURITY.

 

80 YEARS ON FROM THE LIBERATION OF AUSCHWITZ, IT’S TIME TO BRING THEM BACK TO LIFE.

Salvaged from scraps of paper with fading pencil marks and burnt edges, these pieces of music are a bridge back to the past, and a window into the human spirit that prevailed in an otherwise unimaginable place.

Most of the manuscripts were destroyed along with the lives of over a million people. What remains are the fragments of 210 pieces of music, which have been meticulously recomposed into an opera-ballet by composer, conductor and Constella Music’s Artistic Director, Leo Geyer.

This music needs to be heard, and Constella has now started a fundraising drive to finally make this a reality.

Performances of ‘The Orchestras of Auschwitz,’ are planned for early 2025, to commemorate 80 years since the liberation of Auschwitz.

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Auschwitz I Men's Orchestra, Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum

The brutal realities of Auschwitz often played out against a backdrop of jaunty music. An orchestra of prisoners was forced to entertain Nazi officers and perform as their fellow captives marched to and from work.

However, as composer Leo Geyer found when he first encountered the musical manuscripts on a visit to the concentration camp in 2015, the prisoners also resisted in subtle ways, weaving in hidden melodies that only their compatriots would recognise.

One piece titled ‘Futile Regrets’ really resonated with Geyer. “It sent goosebumps down my spine,” he remembers. “I felt it was my duty to finish it.”

And so began Geyer’s mission to preserve the musical legacy of Auschwitz and honour the victims of the holocaust.

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Geyer conducting a more traditional orchestra. Those who played in the camps were made up of whatever instruments were available.

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‘It’s the equivalent of several hundred jigsaw puzzles, except many of the pieces are missing."

 Leo Geyer 

At one point, Auschwitz had as many as six orchestras that were sanctioned by the SS. It’s difficult to imagine a more macabre setting for music-making, but for some, like Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, who played cello, the music literally saved their lives.

“That I survived nearly one year in Auschwitz is without any doubt due to the fact that I became a member of the camp orchestra. As long as the Germans wanted music they wouldn’t put us in the gas chamber.

Our task consisted of playing every morning and every evening at the gate of the camp so that the outgoing and incoming work commandos would march neatly in step to the marches we played. We sat out there in all weathers, sometimes in sub-zero temperatures.

All the works we played had to be arranged and re-orchestrated for our peculiar collection of instruments.”

“In a subtle way it helped me to maintain a shred of human dignity"

Anita Lasker-Wallfisch.

Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, was photographed at her home in London, December 2020, by Karen Robinson/The Observer

The Live Performances

A run of five full-length performances, comprising music, ballet and storytelling are planned for January 2025, to coincide with the 80th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

Fundraising for this project has begun and support has already been secured from a number of foundations championing the performing arts, as well as the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and March of the Living UK, but additional financial backing is still needed.

The total cost of the production is budgeted at £500,000, based on funding received to date and income forecast, we will require additional funding of at least £250,000. 

 

This includes:

  • Further research and music composition work

  • Choreography by a world class choreographer

  • Artists, creative and support team and much more

Excerpts of the music were performed at Constella’s 10th Anniversary Performance in Sadler’s Wells in November 2023, and

based on extensive national and international press coverage, we  know there’s considerable interest in seeing this project realised.

Our long-term ambition is to tour ‘The Orchestras of Auschwitz’ nationally and internationally. This music deserves to reach as wide and diverse an audience as possible. And after being lost for so many decades, it is now our collective responsibility to make it happen.

Press Coverage 

For full listings please see our News page

 

“Music composed at Auschwitz to be played for first time after being restored.”

Lianne Kolirin, CNN

“Sheet music written by Auschwitz prisoners collected dust for decades. This British composer restored it.”

Abby Hughes, CBC Radio

“With the wave of a conductor’s baton, a heartbreaking melody began to resound inside a concert hall in London.”

María Luisa Paúl, Washington Post

“The Sadler’s Wells performance is just the beginning for Geyer, who seeks funding to complete the full score. His ambitious vision includes a London production followed by an international tour, ultimately bringing the music back to Poland.”

Olivia Gittel, The Jewish Chronicle

BBC Radio 4 – World at One – 27/11/2023
00:00 / 04:30

THIS MUSIC AND THESE STORIES FROM AUSCHWITZ MUST BE TOLD AND RETOLD FOR GENERATIONS TO COME. THEY ARE A WAY TO REMEMBER, TO EDUCATE, AND TO HEAL.

BY SUPPORTING THIS PROJECT YOU WILL BE HELPING TO PRESERVE AND HONOUR THE CULTURAL AND ARTISTIC EXPRESSIONS THAT EMERGED EVEN IN THE DARKEST TIMES OF HUMAN HISTORY

Donate Now

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Supporters 

Constella would like to  thank the following organisations for their support of this project in addition to generous philanthropic supporters, including those who wish to remain anonymous:

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