5 Composers Murdered by the Nazis

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iStock

Theresienstadt concentration camp, or Terezín as it was usually called, was an oddity—even by Nazi standards. It was used as a transit camp, before carting people off to Auschwitz. But more than that, they used it as propaganda, the "model Jewish settlement"—the beautiful, special place where Jews would be resettled under Hitler's plan, before he went full-steam ahead with "The Final Solution." As such, people placed in Terezín were given privileges that the others were not. Concerts, theater, books to read—even opera.

The words opera and Holocaust very rarely make their way into the same conversation, let alone the same sentence. It is difficult to imagine, then, that an Austrian composer and pianist by the name of Viktor Ullmann not only contemplated the great operatic tradition while imprisoned in Terezín, but was actually able to compose one. Scribbled on the back of camp records and lists of prisoners to be sent to the gas chambers, Ullmann penned a work called The Emperor of Atlantis, which is largely about life and death having lost their meaning.

And while both the composer and the librettist, Peter Kien, were ultimately murdered in Auschwitz, the score was miraculously smuggled out and resurfaced in London before ultimately receiving its premiere some 30 years later in Amsterdam. We don't have any excerpts of the piece, but we do have another piece Ullmann wrote, and others by four more composers who were part of the unusual, sadly surreal musical scene at Terezín.

1. GIDEON KLEIN

Gideon Klein was studying music in Prague when the Nazis closed all institutions of higher learning in the occupied Czech territories. He was sent to Terezín in December, 1941, but was then sent to Auschwitz and ultimately to Fürstengrube, where he was murdered in the gas chambers.

2. KAREL ŠVENK

Karel Švenk was an actor, director, writer, and composer before the war. Svenk was one of the artists who helped mount many productions at Terezín, including an all-male cabaret. He was murdered in 1945.

3. ERWIN SCHULHOFF

Composer Erwin Schulhoff and dancer Milča Mayerová, ca 1931
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Erwin Schulhoff studied piano with Debussy for a short spell. He was even awarded the Mendelssohn Prize in 1913 for his piano achievements and won the same prize as a composer some years following WWI. He was sent to Terezín in 1941 and then Wülzburg, where he died in August, 1942.

4. PAVEL HAAS

Haas was sent to Terezín in 1941, and composed several pieces during his stay, although only three of them have been preserved. One of them, "Study for String Orchestra," was immortalized when a performance, in the presence of the composer, was included in the Nazi propaganda film, Der Führer schenkt den Jüden eine Stadt. Haas died in Auschwitz on October 17, 1944.

5. VIKTOR ULLMANN

Viktor Ullmann
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Viktor Ullmann kept very busy at Terezín. Besides composing and accompanying, he also penned critiques of some of the musical events that Klein and others put on. In 1944 he was deported Birkenau at Auschwitz, where he was killed in the gas chambers.

22 Weird Jobs From 100 Years Ago

Metal Floss via YouTube
Metal Floss via YouTube

Before everyone started working in tech, people actually had their choice of eclectic and strange vocations that put food on their old-timey tables. Discover what lamplighters, lectores, and knocker-uppers did back in the day as Mental Floss editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy runs down 22 Weird Old Jobs from 100 Years Ago.

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The Definition of Museum Could Be Changing

The Louvre Museum in Paris, France.
The Louvre Museum in Paris, France.
roman_slavik/iStock via Getty Images

If you’ve always casually defined museum as “a place to see art or historical objects,” you’re not necessarily wrong. But the International Council of Museums (ICOM) has a more specific, official guideline that defines a museum as “a non-profit, permanent institution in the service of society and its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates, and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study, and enjoyment.”

ICOM’s 40,000 members have been adhering to this definition for almost 50 years to represent more than 20,000 museums around the world. Now, The Art Newspaper reports, some members want to change it.

On July 22, the organization’s executive board convened in Paris and composed a new definition that Danish curator Jette Sandahl believes better suits the demands of “cultural democracy.” By this updated description, a museum must “acknowledg[e] and addres[s] the conflicts and challenges of the present,” “work in active partnership with and for diverse communities to collect, preserve, research, interpret, exhibit, and enhance understandings of the world,” and “contribute to human dignity and social justice, global equality, and planetary wellbeing.”

The proposal immediately elicited harsh reactions from a number of other members of the museum community, who felt the text was too ideological and vague. François Mairesse, a professor at the Université Sorbonne Nouvelle and the chair of the International Committee of Museology, even resigned from the revisory commission—led by Sandahl—earlier this summer when he realized the new definition wasn’t, by his standards, really a definition. “This is not a definition but a statement of fashionable values, much too complicated and partly aberrant,” he told The Art Newspaper. “It would be disastrous to impose only one type of museum.”

The current plan is for ICOM members to vote on the definition at the general assembly on September 7 in Kyoto, Japan, but 24 national branches and five museums’ international committees have petitioned to postpone the vote—they’d like some time to create their own definition for museum and present it as a counter-proposal.

[h/t The Art Newspaper]

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