How One Man Dedicated His Life to Preserving the Music of the Holocaust

In the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, Gentile prisoners were privileged in comparison with Jews, insofar as they were to be worked and starved to death more slowly, and were less likely to be shot or gassed. Among them was a Pole named Aleksander Kulisiewicz, who was arrested by the SS in 1940 for writing newspaper articles critical of the Nazis. Not long after his arrival at Sachsenhausen camp, Kulisiewicz befriended a Jewish inmate named Martin Rosenberg, who was the conductor of a clandestine choir. Makana Eyre writes

As soon as an opportunity arose, he snuck into block 37 to watch one of the choir’s secret rehearsals. He stood in the back of the room, up against a wall. Some 30 men were arrayed before him, warming up their voices. All of them wore the Star of David. . . . The men didn’t seem to be professional musicians, but that didn’t matter. Their conductor knew how to draw out the best possible sound. He would stop the men’s singing to adjust the division of voices, making sure there were four strong groups—altos, tenors, basses, and basso profundos—able to sing in harmony. He assigned each man to a group based on the tone, timbre, and range of his voice.

All the while, Kulisiewicz composed his own songs, putting new lyrics to melodies he remembered from his youth. He did it for entertainment and to avoid thinking about the camp’s conditions. He also used music to create a record of life in Sachsenhausen.

As a child, Kulisiewicz had developed an exceptional capacity for memorization in order to overcome a stutter. He put this talent to use:

[Kulisiewicz] couldn’t write the songs down. Doing so would mean punishment, even death. Nothing could be saved—except in his memory. [He] began to build a catalog of music and poetry. At first much of it was his. But some pieces came from [the Jewish] choir, and over time they increasingly came from other prisoners. A man in the barracks after a long day of “sport,” [the SS’s terms for the brutal daily exercise routines], would begin to sing, and Kulisiewicz would listen, committing the words and melody to memory.

Soon, his power of memory became as well-known as his musical skill. Prisoners started coming to him, asking that he remember their songs.

[When Rosenberg] feared that the Jews had little time left, he told Kulisiewicz that he saw omens that he was sure presaged their deaths. One evening in early October 1942, he came to Kulisiewicz. “You are not a Jew,” he said. “If you survive, you must sing my song of bitterness and revenge, my death song. You have to sing it all around the world, or else I will curse you and you won’t be able to die in peace.” Kulisiewicz promised he would.

Kulisiewicz indeed survived and spent much of his life after the war writing down and recording the songs, and performing them wherever he could.

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Read more at Atavist

More about: Concentration Camps, Holocaust, Jewish music, Poland

Salman Rushdie and the Western Apologists for Those Who Wish Him Dead

Aug. 17 2022

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder and supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, issued a fatwa (religious ruling) in 1989 calling for believers to murder the novelist Salman Rushdie due to the content of his novel, The Satanic Verses. Over the years, two of the book’s translators have been stabbed—one fatally—and numerous others have been injured or killed in attempts to follow the ayatollah’s writ. Last week, an American Shiite Muslim came closer than his many predecessors to killing Rushdie, stabbing him multiple times and leaving him in critical condition. Graeme Wood comments on those intellectuals in the West who have exuded sympathy for the stabbers:

In 1989, the reaction to the fatwa was split three ways: some supported it; some opposed it; and some opposed it, to be sure, but still wanted everyone to know how bad Rushdie and his novel were. This last faction, Team To Be Sure, took the West to task for elevating this troublesome man and his insulting book, whose devilry could have been averted had others been more attuned to the sensibilities of the offended.

The fumes are still rising off of this last group. The former president Jimmy Carter was, at the time of the original fatwa, the most prominent American to suggest that the crime of murder should be balanced against Rushdie’s crime of blasphemy. The ayatollah’s death sentence “caused writers and public officials in Western nations to become almost exclusively preoccupied with the author’s rights,” Carter wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times. Well, yes. Carter did not only say that many Muslims were offended and wished violence on Rushdie; that was simply a matter of fact, reported frequently in the news pages. He took to the op-ed page to add his view that these fanatics had a point. “While Rushdie’s First Amendment freedoms are important,” he wrote, “we have tended to promote him and his book with little acknowledgment that it is a direct insult to those millions of Moslems whose sacred beliefs have been violated.” Never mind that millions of Muslims take no offense at all, and are insulted by the implication that they should.

Over the past two decades, our culture has been Carterized. We have conceded moral authority to howling mobs, and the louder the howls, the more we have agreed that the howls were worth heeding. The novelist Hanif Kureishi has said that “nobody would have the [courage]” to write The Satanic Verses today. More precisely, nobody would publish it, because sensitivity readers would notice the theological delicacy of the book’s title and plot. The ayatollahs have trained them well, and social-media disasters of recent years have reinforced the lesson: don’t publish books that get you criticized, either by semiliterate fanatics on the other side of the world or by semiliterate fanatics on this one.

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Read more at Atlantic

More about: Ayatollah Khomeini, Freedom of Speech, Iran, Islamism, Jimmy Carter