Classical Music and Holocaust History

By Emily A. Bernstein, Education Outreach Associate, Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh

September was Classical Music Month, and the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh would like to honor this celebration of music beyond the month of September, through learning and remembrance.

Classical music was and remains an important lens through which to study and understand the human experience of the Holocaust. The Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh knows and promotes the value of connecting students to the history of the Holocaust through the arts. Throughout the years, we have cultivated and organized a number of teacher trainings and resources to help educators inspire and impact students’ learning about the Holocaust, focusing on beauty, expression, and the versatility of art as witnessing.

To learn more about our previous arts trainings, and view a comprehensive list of resources, please visit the following blog post from Jackie Reese, our Education and Marketing Associate. In this article, Jackie elaborates on a very special training we hosted with Dr. Esther Raizen, Elena Alexandratos, and Flavio Chamis – they guided our teachers through the use of visual arts, theater, and music (respectively) to teach the Holocaust. We also host the Waldman International Arts and Writing Competition every year, provided generously by Hal and Diane Waldman. Through the Waldman Competition, we encourage students’ creativity and reflection through artistic mediums – this year’s theme and guidelines can be viewed at

Throughout our recent pandemic, we have received requests for curriculum tools and resources, even for music educators! While we are living in challenging times, especially for teachers, students, and their families, we thought it would be helpful to connect you with this history through our resources and those of our partners, including a very special Pittsburgh connection to classical music of the Holocaust.

Below, you will see a “toolkit” of resources for teaching about Music and the Holocaust. If you have any questions, or you would like to be connected to more curriculum tools, please feel free to reach out to us! Oh, and If you are a “newbie” to classical music, you might want to take a moment to read the following introductory article explaining the time periods and genres of classical music, “The Evolution of Classical Music” from Mozart for Muggles.

Classical Music and the Holocaust Resource Toolkit

The Nazi Regime suppressed music written and produced by Jews and other “enemies” of the state, often Avant Garde artists, as well as those carrying on the traditions of classical music in Germany beyond the Romantic period. Modern art and music deemed inferior by the Nazis was labeled as Entartete. “It translates to the word decadent, but what it really means is forbidden and ultimately forgotten. Any art that was designated as entartete was banned by the Nazis, forbidden to be seen or heard. Those who produced such art and music were dismissed from teaching positions, forbidden to exhibit or to sell or have their music performed, and in many cases even forbidden to produce art. This is sadly familiar to us today…” (Michael Haas). Many of the Entartete composers and artists were murdered in the Holocaust. To learn more about Entartete Musik, we recommend the following:

  • The Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh is proud to have hosted Pittsburgh’s renown musical group, The Clarion Quartet, which is whole-heartedly dedicated to bringing Entartete music to light for enjoyment and preservation. This past winter, we were lucky to have experienced a phenomenal virtual reality screening of By the Waters of Babylon, a virtual reality documentary featuring the Clarion Quartet.
  • To learn more in depth about Entartete Musik, please visit to discover resources and supplements to your curriculum. We also encourage you to read this article about The Clarion Quartet in The Jewish Chronicle of Pittsburgh:
  • As mentioned previously, Flavio Chamis played an essential role in educating our teachers about the importance and influence of music during the Holocaust. Flavio highly recommends the following blog of author Michael Haas, Forbidden Music. We encourage you to visit his site, which highlights the stories and sounds of artists almost severed from the historical progression of classical music.

Francesco Lotoro is an Italian Jewish musician who is making it his life’s purpose to find and compile musical works lost in the Holocaust. To learn more about his efforts, and his project connecting students to this history through performance, please visit the following links:

The United State Holocaust Memorial Museum online exhibition, Music of the Holocaust, shares with us a glimpse of music from the war period – not only that of forbidden composers, but also the music of everyday life and survival, created in ghettos, concentration camps, and partisan out-posts. Music composition persisted during these difficult times not purely as a means of artistic expression, but also that of the preservation of humanity and history – the topics, events, and emotions of everyday life, such as love, friendship, and gossip.

  • Two wonderful USHMM affiliated educators, Brett Werb and Tara Brancato, have offered their expertise in the creation of this post. If you are a teacher and you would like to connect with either educator for continued curriculum questions, please reach out to us directly.
  • Tara Brancato recommends that music educators examine Steve Reich’s “Different Trains,” which can be viewed and explained through these links:

Teen Screen, a project of Film Pittsburgh, provides a free educational experience that facilitates exploration of important, often difficult, topics through film. Due to the pandemic, Teen Screen has moved their film screenings to virtual viewing. The Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh highly recommends the moving short documentary, Joe’s Violin, which traces the journey of one violin from a Holocaust survivor to a New York City middle school student, connecting them through music.

We hope this post is helpful! If you would like to learn more about The Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh’s offerings, please do not hesitate to reach out to us or visit our main website at

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