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Dapim: Studies on the Holocaust

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Abandoning Representations: Holocaust Imageries

in Late Israeli Art Music

Assaf Shelleg

To cite this article: Assaf Shelleg (2016): Abandoning Representations: Holocaust Imageries in
Late Israeli Art Music, Dapim: Studies on the Holocaust, DOI: 10.1080/23256249.2016.1131021

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Published online: 01 Feb 2016.

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Dapim: Studies on the Holocaust, 2016

Abandoning Representations: Holocaust Imageries in Late Israeli Art

Assaf Shelleg

Department of Musicology, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Mt. Scopus 9190501, Jerusalem

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Discussing mechanisms of representation in modern Jewish art music in general and post-
Holocaust commemoration music in particular, the article examines the dilution of musical
signs in Holocaust-related works penned by Israeli composers Noam Sheriff, Ruben
Seroussi, and Tzvi Avni. Written within the span of thirteen years, between 1985 and 1998,
these works include Sherrif’s (b. 1935) Mechaye Hametim (He Who Revives the Dead,
1985); Seroussi’s (b. 1959) A Victim from Terezin (1995; based on excerpts from Gonda
Redlich’s Terezin diary); Avni’s (b. 1927) Se questo è un oumo (1998; a setting of poems by
Primo Levi); and Avni’s From There and Then (1994–1998). The compositions under
discussion unfold a continuum of aesthetic approaches ranging from postromantic
trajectories that stitch musical signs on nationalist teleological constellations (Sheriff),
through conscious non-redemptive formulations (Seroussi), to compositional emphases on
the migration and translocation of Jewish musics rather than affixed signs of otherness
(Avni). The dilution of Jewish musical markers not only attests to the composers’
abandoning of representational apparatuses, but also necessitates a broader look at the
dialectical movement of Jewish musics before, during, and after the Holocaust, lest these
sounds become objectified or otherwise overshadowed by nationalist constellations.

Keywords: Holocaust music; Israeli art music; Zionism; Hebrew culture; postmemory

Music in, of, or about the Holocaust involves more sounds than one wishes to acknowledge. Beyond
assimilable euphonic and/or threnodic musical portrayals drawing on the Eastern European sounds-
cape (namely, Yiddish songs, Hasidic music, klezmer and Ashkenazi liturgical music) with which
one is familiarized through commemoration ceremonies, soundtracks or repertoires composed,
arranged or performed in the context of Nazi camps and ghettos, such music also includes compul-
sory singing in concentration camps, military or patriotic songs, and camps’ anthems. ‘It was by no
means unusual for singing to provide the macabre background music for punishments, which were
stage-managed as a deterrent, or even as a means of sadistic humiliation and torture’, writes Guido
Fackler, ‘and the same is true of executions’. Prescribed music was also forced through propaganda

The article is a revised version of a paper delivered at the conference ‘The Shoah in Israeli Culture, Memory
and Politics’, held at Brandeis University on April 27–28, 2014.

© 2016 The Institute for Holocaust Research, at the University of Haifa

2 A. Shelleg

music, German classical music played over loudspeakers, or demoralizing victory announcements
from German radio stations. In Majdanek, for example, mobile loudspeakers played foxtrot
during executions so as to confuse the victims while drowning out the screams of the murdered.
‘Marching music was switched on in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp when people were
being shot’, thereby disorienting the next inmate in line.1 Camp orchestras would provide back-
ground music to some of the brutalities described above or entertain the guards who needed
music to assure themselves that their murderous behavior did not compromise their self-image as
members of cultured and civilized society.2 There were also monophonic songs from the camps
that recorded the here and now through preexisting musics (whether in the form of entire songs or
centonized fragments thereof) that disclosed both their Jewish and non-Jewish pasts.
Yet such soundscapes are almost unthinkable in Holocaust commemoration ceremonies held
in Israel in the context of Shoa u’gvurah (Holocaust and heroism), ceremonies whose aesthetics
selectively utilizes small parts of this musical repertoire (usually partisan songs translated into
Hebrew or European art music known to have been performed in the camps) under the
purview of ‘spiritual resistance’ and national redemption. Such approaches result in modes of rep-
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resentation that not only run the risk of de-historicizing the Holocaust in favor of saccharine for-
mulations charged with nationalist functions, they also inadvertently essentialize and in turn
otherize Jewish music. Put differently, drawing on the Eastern European soundscape while
muting its sonic complexity might unintentionally reproduce the separation of the Jewish from
the non-Jewish while situating the victims’ memory in statist teleological narratives.
At the center of what has consolidated into a liturgy is the very mechanism of representation in
music and, more specifically, its dialectics in early twentieth-century music, or what Michael
Steinberg refers to as the post-Wagner trauma (this, however, does not concern the teleological
fallacies involved in reconstructing Wagner’s Hitler, as Hans Vaget has argued).3 Wagner
bequeathed the mutuality of form and ideology, of aesthetics and politics, after which a crisis
of musical integrity evolved. The post-Wagnerian era thus called for the restoration of music
as a discourse of subjectivity rather than one of identity, writes Steinberg: music from the
nation rather than of the nation. Understanding Wagnerian leitmotifs as a mechanism that
‘relies on a deft reconciliation of apparent opposites’, namely ‘the ideology of absolute music
on the one hand and the intensification of music’s claim to signify on the other’, Steinberg,
taking his cue from Jung, distinguishes between a sign (an abbreviated expression of a known
thing) and a symbol (the expression of an unknown fact) and argues that the post-Wagnerian
trauma necessitated the decentering of Germanicizing inflections, as well as a resistance to codi-
fied ideologies. Recovery from the Wagnerian impasse was thus the articulation of subjectivity
rather than of identity. In musical terms, this involved the disarticulation of the musical sign in
the form of ‘an alliance of voice and symbol, of femininity and non-Germanness’ – a mode of
subjectivity that resists the magnetism of the Wagnerian ideology of signification as well as its
modern signification of ideology.4 Emancipating oneself from this contract was a thorny task
for Jews, since merely disavowing the Wagnerian mode of representation could produce its

Guido Fackler, “Music in Concentration Camps 1933–1945,” Music & Politics 1:1 (2007), http://www. (accessed May 12, 2014).
Richard A. Etlin, “Introduction: The Perverse Logic of Nazi Thought,” in Richard A. Etlin, (ed.), Art,
Culture, and Media Under the Third Reich (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2002), pp. 25–26.
Michael Steinberg, Listening to Reason: Culture, Subjectivity, and Nineteenth-Century Music (Princeton,
NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004), pp. 193–225 and Hans Rudolf Vaget, “Hitler’s Wagner: Musical Dis-
course as Cultural Space,” in Michael H. Kater and Albrecht Riethmüller, (eds.), Music and Nazism: Art
under Tyranny, 1933–1945 (Laaber: Laaber, 2003), pp. 15–31.
Steinberg, Listening to Reason, pp. 194–195.
Dapim: Studies on the Holocaust 3

binary opposite, thereby ensnaring every formulation within Wagner’s narrative. The Czech or
Hungarian nationalities, whose subversive local subjectivities grappled with the Wagnerian
trauma (Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle or Janáček’s The Makropoulos Case), were insufficient
models for Jews whose particularism was still proclaimed supra-idiomatic or cosmopolitan in
the antisemitic imagination and as such could have easily bolstered Wagner’s ideological leitmotif
of Jewish difference had Jewish composers turned to Jewish folk or liturgical music.5 Indeed, by
reverting to liturgical or paraliturgical musics associated with any Jewish soundscape, Jewish
composers could have similarly reversed the reversal of the ideology of signification and partaken
(unwillingly) in a nationalism of negation. Leon Wielseltier eloquently describes the binarism
entailed in such inversions as follows: ‘The idea of identity originated in logic.’ ‘A = A. This
is an assertion of sameness and an assertion of difference … .This is also a way of saying that
A≠B. Which might bruise B. There is solace of course. It is that B = B. But this is also a way
of saying that B≠A. Which might bruise A.’ Wielseltier’s exercise in the fallacy of identity poli-
tics concludes with the assertion that ‘Identity is social, but it is not very sociable.’6 Evading the
inversion of antisemitism therefore requires a mode of in-betweenness, both within and outside
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the system of signification, that would destabilize binary modes of representations.

In the context of Holocaust-related musical portrayals, A = A refers mainly to those Eastern
European melody types found in Yiddish songs, shteygers (Ashkenazi prayer modes), klezmer,
or Hasidic music that is often associated (at times, Pavlovianly) with musical Judaism. Such
markers were never an exclusive part of the Eastern European Jewish soundscape, but rather
attested to a symbiotic cultural space shared by Jewish and non-Jewish Eastern European subcul-
tures. Indeed, beyond their prevalence and prioritization in the Eastern European Jewish sounds-
cape, the ethnographic distribution of its melody types shows considerable clustering among the
Ukrainian, Romanian, Slovakian and Polish musics.7 But limit this cultural flux to the Jewish
space alone and one encounters a flow that not only defies pre- and post-Holocaust periodical par-
titions – by which culture does not and cannot abide – but also trumps misnomers like ‘Holocaust
music’, ‘Nazi music’ and other equivalent essentialist (and hence fragile) adjectives.8
Having studied the music in the Lodz ghetto through fieldwork with surviving informants (in
addition to other previously available anthologies) Gila Flam discloses some of the sounds sup-
pressed in the act of revered commemoration. ‘Ikh hob gemayks kokleten’ (‘I have made meat-
balls’), for instance, a cheerful street song whose melody and rhythm may be surprisingly jolly in
relation to its text, reads ‘I have made meatballs,/for all the Jews./And from horse’s flesh, meat-
balls,/The people are satisfied./When this meat stands a while,/It starts to stink,/We drink a glass
of tea,/With a little saccharine./Bim bom bim bom biribom,/Bim bim bom biribiribom.’9 The
melody is a close variant of another street song Flam transcribed, ‘Merin der neyer kayser’
(‘Merin the New Emperor’), which originated in an earlier setting by David Beyglman titled
‘Ganovim lid – Masmatn’ (‘Thieves’ Song’).10 Known as contrafactum (pl. contrafacta),

Steinberg, Listening to Reason, pp. 210–219.
Leon Wieseltier, Against Identity (New York: W. Drenttel, 1996), pp. 4–5.
Mark Slobin, “The Evolution of a Musical Symbol in Yiddish Culture,” in Frank Talmage, (ed.), Studies in
Jewish Folklore (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980), pp. 314–323; Moshe Beregovski, Old
Jewish Folk Music: The Collections and Writings of Moshe Beregovski, Mark Slobin, (ed. and trans.), (Syr-
acuse: Syracuse University Press, 2000), pp. 513–529.
Pamela Potter, “What is Nazi Music?” Musical Quarterly vol. 88, no. 3 (2005), pp. 428–455; Potter,
“Musical Life in Berlin from Weimar to Hitler,” in Music and Nazism, pp. 90–101.
Gila Flam, Singing for Survival: Songs of the Lodz Ghetto, 1940–1945 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press,
1992), pp. 69–70.
Other close variants include “Men darf tsi kemfn” (“One must fight”) and “Nor zorgt misht yidn” (“Just
don’t worry, Jews”); see Flam, Singing for Survival, pp. 66–68, 79–82.
4 A. Shelleg

namely the substitution of one text for another in preexisting music that is insubstantially modi-
fied, the migration of melodies in oral transmission often renders the act of composing and com-
piling indistinguishable. Music, in other words, travels, and all the more so in oral musical
traditions that don it in new texts (however successfully tailored) while disregarding exact succes-
sions of notes that are rather secondary to a melodic contour filled with sounds in motion.11 Fluxes
of this kind undermine representational methodologies that attempt to affix, pause, and objectify
identities. Indeed, it is precisely this motion that denies the relationship between text and music in
such contexts. One poignant example is another street song from the Lodz ghetto, ‘Vayl ikh bin a
yidale’ (‘Because I am a Jew’). Its refrain merely repeats the phrase, ‘Because I am a Jew,/I sing a
little song’,12 yet the nonspecific content of this jolly refrain is revealed to be a tongue-in-cheek
comment on the outbreak of an unidentified world war and the suffering endured by Jews conse-
quently: When the war started,/We didn’t have any dinner,/So Jews started with the speculation./
Immediately there was a shortage/In silver small change,/For heaven’s sake: we have a war/Over
the entire world.13 Gradually the refrain is stripped of its gaiety and innocence as the song unfolds.
Informants and scholars have identified several possible sources for ‘Vayl ikh bin a yidale’ whose
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melodic and textual fluxes date from the Lodz ghetto back to World War I.14 But what sustains the
acidity of this song’s refrain (‘Because I am a Jew’) is the fact that its melody is an extremely close
variant of ‘Siman tov u’mazel tov’, a paraliturgical Jewish song performed at weddings, bar mitz-
vahs, circumcision rites and other festive occasions. These startling similarities notwithstanding,
melodic proximities of this sort emerge from a polymusical system that features internal sounds-
capes (liturgical, paraliturgical and non-liturgical musics) fused with music of the peasantry of
various ethnicities, and are therefore the outcome of centonization (patchwork) of musical
elements, musical properties and contrafacta of entire or fragmentary melodies – lineaments of
an Eastern European sonic field irrespective of origin.15
And yet such ethnomusicological findings did not interfere with violent constructions of nega-
tive national identities whose definition of the self excluded from its socio-symbolic order what
the non-Jew needed in order to mask his fantasy of fullness.16 During the earlier decades of the
twentieth century, before and during the rise of Nazism, Eastern Europe manifested a site of
remembrance and loss, attraction and rejection, inspiration and abhorrence. Jews haunted by
the Wagnerian discourse and particularly by the onomatopoeically noisy images Wagner had
ascribed to Jewish speech (‘peculiarities of Semitic pronunciation … creaking, squeaking,
buzzing snuffle … jumbled phrases’) or to the sounds coming from the synagogue (‘sense-and-
sound-confounding gurgle, jodel, and cackle’) sought an aesthetic affirmation in this east,
which acted as a double-edged sword.17 Eastern Europe became an emblem of loss and a desir-
able site of authenticity for acculturated Westjuden, while non-Jews perceived it as Jews’
unmasked Asian face. And as the newly idealized image of the Ostjuden allowed the Western

On this flux of oral musical traditions in another, Arab Jewish, context, see, for example, Robert Lach-
mann, Jewish Cantillation and Song in the Isle of Djerba (Jerusalem: Archives of Oriental Music, The
Hebrew University, 1940).
Flam, Singing for Survival, pp. 82–84.
Flam, Singing for Survival, p. 84.
Flam, Singing for Survival, p. 85.
Joel E. Rubin, “The Art of the Klezmer: Improvisation and Ornamentation in the Commercial Recordings
of New York Clarinetists Naftule Brandwein and Dave Tarras 1922–1929,” PhD diss., City University of
London, 2001, pp. 151–153; see also, Benjamin Harshav, The Meaning of Yiddish (Berkeley: University
of California Press, 1990), pp. 3–73.
Slavoj Žižek, The Sublime Object of Ideology (London: Verso, 1989), pp. 124–127.
Richard Wagner, Richard Wagner’s Prose Works, William Ashton Ellis (trans.) (New York: Broude Bros.,
1966), vol. iii, pp. 85, 91.
Dapim: Studies on the Holocaust 5

European Jew to reassess his identity and roots (as well as his Eastern European brethren),
musical symptoms of this phenomenon appeared in the form of reproduction, re-contextualization
and centonizations, all demonstrating composers’ intellectual resistance to tropes of difference
and codified ideologies, and their grappling with the metapoetics of representation (as the
cases of composers Ernest Bloch and Arnold Schonberg, for example, attest).18 By the 1940s
and 1950s, however, few emigrant composers in Palestine/Israel could afford such grappling
and contest the rhetoric of officialdom or resist nationalist musical aesthetics aimed at signifying
Hebrewist nativeness and Zionist difference. Even fewer could address the helplessness of Euro-
pean Jewry during the Holocaust, which by 1961 (during the Eichmann Trial) had been fashioned
by Ben-Gurion into a ‘counter metaphor’, as Edith Zertal terms it, ‘to the discourse of Israeli
omnipotence and also as its ultimate justification’.19
With this, the interpretative range of Holocaust music in Israel was significantly narrowed,
and the teleological alignment of Jewish devastation with Israeli sovereignty would resonate
with compositional designs that reproduced tropes of Jewish otherness. Other approaches, still,
were wary of the binary logic of sameness and difference that they consciously invalidated
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through the abandoning of the auratic (as in an ‘aura’ that separates an image from its surrounding
mundane continuum) as their contemporaries in modern Israeli poetry had done, or by affirming
the dialectical flow found in the Eastern European soundscape (often, through more than a singu-
lar composition).20 And so the following discussion involves three compositions that by them-
selves form a continuum of approaches disclosing the confines of binary representations in
music of, in, or about the Holocaust – a continuum stretching from postromantic formulations
that stitch affixed musical signs on teleological constellations to non-redemptive designs that res-
onate with the migration and translocation of Jewish musics.
Written within the span of thirteen years, between 1985 and 1998, these works include: Noam
Sherrif’s (b. 1935) Mechaye Hametim (He Who Revives the Dead, 1985) for tenor, baritone, choir
and orchestra; Ruben Seroussi’s (b. 1959) A Victim from Terezin (1995) for narrator/singer and
chamber ensemble (based on excerpts from Gonda Redlich’s Terezin diary); Tzvi Avni’s (b.
1927) ‘Cantare’, the fifth movement of Se questo è un oumo (1998) for soprano and orchestra
(a setting of poems by Primo Levi) and Avni’s From There and Then (1994–1998), prelude
and passacaglia for piano. While one would usually categorize the first three works as post-Holo-
caust commemoration music (given their music and textual contexts), it is the compositional aes-
thetics of the last three that signals the abandoning of representations in Holocaust-related Israeli
art music; and of those three is it the last two by Avni that manage to replicate and extend the
dialectical movement embedded in the contrafacta discussed earlier.
Evident in this assortment of compositions is therefore the gradual disillusionment with rep-
resentational paradigms in the form of ossified citations of musics from the Eastern European

Steven J. Cahn, “Schoenberg, the Viennese-Jewish Experience and its Aftermath,” in Jennifer Shaw and
Joseph Auner, (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Schoenberg (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
2010), pp. 191–206; Richard Kurth, “Schönberg and the Bilderverbot,” Journal of the Arnold Schoenberg
Center vol. 5 (2003), pp. 332–372; Michael Steinberg, “Jewish Identity and Intellectuality in Fin-de-Siècle
Vienna: Suggestions for a Historical Discourse,” New German Critique vol. 43 (1988), pp. 3–33; David
M. Schiller, Bloch, Schoenberg, Bernstein: Assimilating Jewish Music (New York: Oxford University
Press, 2003), pp. 12–73; Klara Móricz, Jewish Identities: Nationalism, Racism, and Utopianism in Twenti-
eth-Century Music (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008), pp. 95–152; see also Assaf Shelleg,
Jewish Contiguities and the Soundtrack of Israeli History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014).
Idith Zertal, Israel’s Holocaust and the Politics of Nationhood (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
2005), p. 95.
Dan Miron, The Prophetic Mode in Modern Hebrew Poetry and Other Essays on Modern Hebrew Litera-
ture (New Milford, CT: Topy Press, 2010), p. 474.
6 A. Shelleg

soundscape, especially when these serve a function in the directionality of redemptive trajectories
that subsequently homogenize victims’ memories and mute their heterogeneity. And while many
of the contrafacta that come to us from the Holocaust encompass pasts of various lengths and a
present recorded in songs such as the previously discussed ‘Ikh hob gemayks kokleten’ or ‘Vayl
ikh bin a yidale’, a future grafted in the context of heroism and spiritual resistance dehistoricizes
these pasts and erases Jewish and non-Jewish diversity while imputing meaning to suffering that
often slides into euphonic sentimentality and mythicization.21

He who silences the dead

Mechaye Hametim (He Who Revives the Dead, a title drawn from the second blessing of the
Amida prayer) by Sheriff seems to stumble over all those pitfalls. The work’s narrative
design moves from ‘Jewish Life in the Diaspora’ (first movement) to ‘The Holocaust’ and
‘Yizkor and Kaddish’ (second and third movements, respectively) and finally to ‘Revival and
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Renaissance’ (concluding movement). The implied teleology and paired redemptive trajectory
are buttressed by a hodge-podge of citations and recitations that extrovertly confirm the different
phases of the work’s linear construction through corresponding Hebrew and Yiddish texts com-
plemented with liturgical and folkish musical imageries employed as static images of Jewish-
ness, whether in the form of musical incipits or signifying objects. The first movement opens
with citations of two Ashkenazi Passover songs, ‘Vehi she’amda’ and ‘Echad mi yode’a’ (the
first, part of the formal recitation of the Haggadah; the second, sung after its completion).
These two incipits are followed by cartoonish klezmer clichés on the clarinet that Sheriff stitches
to a rather coarse paraphrase of the piyyut for Shabbat ‘Shalom aleychem’ (by Israel Goldfarb)
on the trombone and immediately thereafter to a pastiche of pan-Hasidic elements that simulate
a niggun. The closing of this movement moves from the high holy days Ashkenazi nusach of
the ‘Avinu malkenu’ prayer set to a boys’ choir (at once rendering them innocent while antici-
pating their impending annihilation in Sheriff’s narrative), to ‘Hanoten teshu’a’, a supplication
for the welfare of the ruling powers of the state or kingdom that by the mid-1660s had been
recited throughout the Sephardic world, from England to Asia Minor, and soon thereafter
entered the Ashkenazi liturgy.22 Sheriff’s compositional narrative thus far blends the liturgical,
paraliturgical and the folk with an august recitation of ‘Hanoten teshu’a’ by two soloists/cantors
(one with a heavy German accent, the other with Eastern European pronunciation of the
Hebrew), thereby pairing the innocence of the paraliturgical and the folk with the sincere,
but equally timorous plea, to the welfare of the government and in parallel to God through
both ‘Hanoten teshu’a’ and ‘Avinu malkenu’. Sheriff’s ill-sutured museological display of
Eastern European objects is followed in the second movement by a concatenation of orchestral
and vocal variants of Mark Warshawsky’s ‘Oyfn pripetchik’ (also known as ‘Der alef beys’),
which Sheriff counterpoints with another Yiddish song ‘Soll ich wern a Row?’ (‘Should I be
a Rabbi?’). But it is ‘Oyfn pripetchik’ that dominates the entire movement. Sheriff illustrates
the song’s text through a counterpointed recitation of vowelized letters in Hebrew by a boys’
choir whose echoes soon transform into cries and screams (Sheriff’s musical equivalent of a cat-
astrophe) before drowning in cinematic orchestral blocks that are replaced with another recita-
tion, this time of Shema Israel by a male choir. The reiteration of ‘Oyfn pripetchik’ by the boys’

Shirli Gilbert, Music in the Holocaust: Confronting Life in the Nazi Ghettos and Camps (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 2005), pp. 5–7.
Barry Schwartz, “‘Hanoten Teshua’: The Origin of the Traditional Jewish Prayer for the Government,”
Hebrew Union College Annual 57 (1986), pp. 113–120.
Dapim: Studies on the Holocaust 7

choir at the end of the movement affirms that their heavenly voices are those of martyred chil-
dren; a final attempt to reverberate the song in the double bass collapses with a glissando sug-
gestive of a dying siren.
Recitations of Kaddish and Yizkor in the following (third) movement activate similar tele-
graphic allusions: the male choir’s chanting of the Kaddish in a low register and a narrow
melodic gamut breaks into heterophonic murmurings that are followed by a cantorial rendering
of the Kaddish. Crescendoing dissonant blocks in the orchestra (yet another cinematic display
attempting to simulate compositional development amid affixed signs) punctuate an ornamented
Kaddish shared by the two soloists/cantors, bringing it to a euphonic conclusion with ‘Ose shalom
bimromav’ (‘He who makes peace in His high places’, from the concluding verse of the Amida
prayer). The two-part Kaddish then continues with two simultaneous Yizkor prayers: the Ashke-
nazi ‘Yizkor Elohim’ and the nationalized ‘Yizkor am Israel’ in which, as Anita Shapira remarks,
the indeterminate death becomes a ‘heroic death for a national cause’ and ‘a tool in the struggle
for the revival of Jewish sovereignty’.23 With this Zionist modulation the work’s apotheosis has
been set. The fourth movement, subtitled ‘Revival and Renaissance’, opens with exotic rhythmic
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patterns followed by biblical texts that rehearse ‘biblical literalism’ (Anita Shapira’s term), uncri-
tically sustaining the actualization of the biblical past in the Zionist present.24 The boys’ choir
recitation of Isaiah 40:1–2 ‘(1Comfort, oh comfort My people,/Says your God/2Speak tenderly
to Jerusalem,/And declare to her/That her term of service is over,/That her iniquity is
expiated;/For she has received at the hand of the Lord/Double for all her sins)’25 is quickly over-
lapped with a debka-like rendition of Isaiah 40:3 by the men’s choir (‘A voice rings out:/Clear in
the desert/A road to the Lord!’)26 and Zechariah 2:14 (‘Shout for joy, Fair Zion! For lo, I come;
and I will dwell in your midst’).27 These references are punctuated by the Hebrew folksong
‘Moladeti’ (‘My homeland’) whose lyrics (‘My homeland the land of Canaan/my goal the
fields of Horan’)28 are in keeping with the nationalist literalist reading of the bible and its encod-
ing of territorial expansionism.29 Indeed, Horan could refer to either ‘Hauran’, a northeastern
region located in the East Bank (as mentioned in Ezekiel 47:16–18), or ‘Beth-Horon’, a pass
located in the West Bank and known as the Valley of Ajalon, where hailstones wreaked havoc
on the coalition army of the five kings fighting Joshua’s army (Joshua 10:10–11). The absence
of the word ‘Beth’ in the song could be explained by both the poetic meter and the description
of the region in Joshua 21:22 (‘Beth-Horon and its pastures’), which refers to the open area
that surrounded a fortified city. In post-biblical times, the same Beth-Horon witnessed the
defeat of Cestius Gallus’ Twelfth Legion in the autumn of 66 CE, during the early phases of
the First Roman-Jewish War (Josephus, War of the Jews II, 19).30 At this point in Sheriff’s
medley of Zionist texts, songs, and appropriated semitic rhythms another paradoxical pitfall is
nevertheless disclosed. ‘Moladeti’ was originally cited by Sheriff’s composition teacher, Paul
Ben-Haim, in a piano trio from 1939 whose title Variations on a Hebrew Melody transmitted
Hebrewist authenticity through what originally had been an Arab peasant song set to new

Anita Shapira, “The Religious Motifs of the Labor Movement,” in Shmuel Almog, Jehuda Reinharz, and
Anita Shapira, (eds.), Zionism and Religion (Hanover: University Press of New England, 1998), p. 263.
Anita Shapira, “The Bible and Israeli Identity,” AJS Review 28:1 (2004), pp. 11–42.
JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh, 2nd ed. (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1999), p. 934.
JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh, p. 934.
JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh, p. 1385.
Solomon Rosowsky, (ed.), From the Song of the Land (Warsaw: Jewish National Fund, 1929), p. 31.
Yehouda Shenhav, Beyond the Two State Solution: A Jewish Political Essay (Cambridge: Polity Press,
2012), pp. 55–56.
Josephus Flavius, Complete Works (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1960), p. 497.
8 A. Shelleg

Hebrew text. Six years after Ben-Haim’s emigration and with limited command of Hebrew, he
made do with such sources found in Zionist songbooks or those he had come across while arran-
ging non-Western liturgical and paraliturgical musics through his Eurocentric compositional
toolbox, which rendered such importations ornamental.31
This was quite surprising coming from Sheriff who in the early 1960s had already managed to
maximalize and exhaust Ben-Haim’s Eurocentric exoticism through textures inundated with arab-
esques, obstinate motifs, variants and variations of asymmetric musical themes, and sensual
rhythms in ametric constellations. Compositional emphases in Sheriff’s early works fell on
melodic layering rather than on Western triadic harmony. The violation of exotic musical
markers not only severed their function in Zionist rhetoric, but was also part of a postcolonial
reading shared by an entire cohort that consciously refused the taming of non-Western Jewish
musical subcultures by the modernizing and secularizing tropes of Hebrew culture. In 1961
Sheriff had partaken in this aesthetic shift with his Music for woodwinds, trombone, piano and
double bass, a work whose densely layered melodies pushed Ben-Haim’s Eurocentrism to its
limits, as melodic planes oversaturated with exotic earmarks (performed by surrogate Western
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woodwinds) generated heterophonic areas in which variants of an approximated theme unfolded

simultaneously. Sheriff’s heterophony was closer to the musical properties and contingencies of
Near Eastern Jewish musics than to their Western metaphors; instead of Orientalist frills hung on
tonal edifices, a disarrayed, multilayered, plurivocal texture destabalizes what could have stood
for national unisonality, as a texture overburdened with exotic markers collapses an otherness
contingent upon tonality.32 But by 1985, counterpointing ‘Moladeti’ with uncritical instilment
of biblical literalism against the backdrop of abrasive debka-like rhythmic allusions set on a
redemptive trajectory found the composer reducing musical importations to mere stereotypes
of Hebrew difference while promoting territorial nationalism. The work’s apotheosis is projected
through another debka-like setting that animates the opening verses of the Song of the
Sea (Exodus 15:1–2), which Sheriff dots with cantorial interjections whose apex is a choral
Hallelujah. Attempting to soar above melodic signifiers (an effect Sheriff knowingly borrowed
from Mordecai Seter’s Midnight Vigil of 1961), he transitions into choral shouts of the Hallelujah
syllables that, once again, are reduced into static objects devoid of the composer’s commentary.33
Sheriff’s narrative consequently subordinates the memories of the victims of the Holocaust to the
teleological Zionist allegory and its Hebrewist paradigms, ascribing the Holocaust a function in
the nation’s annals while donning in postromantic aesthetics whose prioritization of the eupho-
nious and the tonal is disturbingly closer to antisemitic essentializations.34 The national territory,
in turn, is rendered a reparation. Notwithstanding his incipits and synoptic introductions (‘Vehi
she’amda’ and ‘Echad mi yode’a’, for example), Sheriff fails to grapple with the musical
materials that have signified and otherized Jews; as a result Mechaye Hametim ensnares itself
in an impasse of its own making by aligning musical and liturgical importations as stereotypes
and by promoting reductive triumphant reading that seeks the revival of the dead in the form
of the state of Israel. Inadvertently then, Sheriff silences the dead whose revival (to follow the

Assaf Shelleg, “Israeli Art Music: A Reintroduction,” Israel Studies 17:3 (2012), pp. 124–127; Yael Zer-
ubavel, “Memory, the Rebirth of the Native, and the ‘Hebrew Bedouin’ Identity,” Social Research 75:1
(2008), pp. 315–352.
Assaf Shelleg, “The Dilution of National Onomatopoeias in Post-Statehood Israeli Art Music: Precursors,
Contiguities, Shifts,” The Journal of Musicological Research 32:4 (2013): pp. 341–345.
Shelleg, Jewish Contiguities, pp. 147–151.
Albrecht Dümling, “The Target of Racial Purity, The ‘Degenerate Music’ Exhibition in Düsseldorf, 1938,”
in Art, Culture, and Media Under the Third Reich, pp. 43–72.
Dapim: Studies on the Holocaust 9

work’s very title, Mechaye Hametim), becomes another symptom for its non-dialectical place-
ments of Jewish incipits and objects.

Musical ‘polaroids’
Unlike Sheriff’s linear narrative design A Victim from Terezin by Seroussi discloses his conscious
attempt to leave testimonies from the Terezin diary of Gonda Redlich unredeemed. Seroussi
knowingly contrasts his work with Arnold Schoenberg’s A Survivor from Warsaw (1947),
whose triumph-through-suffering program apexes with a unisonal male choir reciting Shema
Israel, partly satisfying listeners’ voyeuristic impulses while disclosing the composer’s desire
to redeem the irredeemable, as Klára Móricz has argued.35 Instead of the triumphal climax of
Schoenberg’s Shema prayer, Seroussi confronts his listeners with the prosaic, mundane, atrocious
and at times naïve testimonies of Redlich, further fragmenting the latter’s selective and sutured
laconic entries that in many cases were the result of his limited command of Hebrew. Saul Fried-
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man writes that Redlich’s ‘choice of Hebrew for his diary was deliberate, offering him practice
with the language he hoped to use in a Jewish homeland after the war and also serving as a
barrier to translation should the Germans discover his notes. Some of his entries make for
rather stiff or formal reading, and he later confesses to difficulties with the language.’36
Despite such impediments, Redlich’s fragmented entries capture what Primo Levi called the
‘gray zone’ of captive life, whose ‘innumerable frontiers’ and ambiguities radiated from regimes
based on terror and obsequiousness, a microcosm of which was reproduced in the camps and
ghettos, thereby stretching those frontiers between each inmate.37 Sampled excerpts from Red-
lich’s diary indeed reveal instances of favoritism, corruption, theft, smuggling and the struggle
of individuals to stay alive. And amid humoristic interjections such as the January 4, 1942
entry (with which Seroussi opens his work), Redlich’s conscious effort to record the unfolding
events for posterity also becomes evident:

January 4, 1942: … A funny occurrence: a man died of sepsis … The members of the Khevre Kadisha
burial society wrote as the reason for death skepsis … . February 18–19, 1942: … There are problems
with the boys in the children’s ward located in the women’s quarters. The boys are educated only by
women counselors, and discipline is lacking. The youth masturbate, and the counselors find it difficult
to control them … . February 23, 1942: Sometimes we’re reminded of all the things that depress us. It
is forbidden to go out without permission. It is forbidden to go into a ship, forbidden, forbidden, for-
bidden. The worst thing is the fact that each of us is getting used to it … . March 7, 1942: … The trans-
ports to Poland and exemptions are a terrible job, full of responsibility. Who has the right, based on
appeal, to be exempted from the transport? The young people? The elderly? There is no answer. And it
seems you always miss something. March 8, 1942: Somebody smuggled several parcels into one
room of the women’s barracks. All the women in the room will be punished by being sent on a trans-
port … . March 31, 1942: We have been working daily on the matter of appeals (reklamatzia). It’s hard
to decide because the appeals vary so much. I had a conversation with doctors who were to advise us
which of the sick were to be exempted. I was very surprised to learn that the doctors did not think this
was a difficult problem … March 14, 1942: Shabbat. Protekzia [favoritism/nepotism]. Protekzia. In
serious matters like exemptions from the transports, it shouldn’t happen. There are things that
weigh heavily upon us and I don’t know how we will be able to justify them in the future. Old

Móricz, Jewish Identities, p. 298.
Egon Redlich, The Terezin Diary of Gonda Redlich, Saul S. Friedman (ed.), Laurence Kutler (trans.)
(Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1992), p. 1; see also Redlich’s entries on Jan. 2, 1942 and Jun.
25–26, 1942 in Redlich, The Terezin Diary of Gonda Redlich, pp. 2, 52 (respectively).
Primo Levi, The Drowned and the Saved, Raymond Rosenthal (trans.) (New York: Summit Books,
1988), pp. 38–69.
10 A. Shelleg

men and boys are sent and Protekzia was rampant. We had to make up each list several times. The
appeals of our chaverim are also different matter. Do we have the right to do it or not? The difference
[between exempting members of the Hechalutz movement and Protekzia] is small.38

Seroussi’s compilation of Redlich’s entries from January 1942 to October 1944 (all in the
original Hebrew) are delivered as textual snapshots and conveyed through a doubly mediated
account. Redlich’s diary is first sifted through by Seroussi, the composer/librettist, who fashions
a fast-forwarded documentary transforming words and sounds into a secondary witnessing,
namely an intellectual interpretation of a testimony advanced without the author’s (Redlich’s)
subjective standpoint or scholarly agenda.39 The fragments that comprise the libretto reveal the
conditions in the camp: they report on executions, the mounting death tolls, transports coming
to and leaving from Terezin, the arrival of Jews from Western Europe, fear of epidemics, and
ongoing class conflicts. Among these entries are glimpses into Redlich’s plans to make aliyah,
his hopes, fears and even indirect information on the educational activities in which he had
been involved (and in which he took great pride). Not included in Seroussi’s compilation,
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however, are Redlich’s references to stealing, political rivalries or personal issues, such as his
compunction about favoritism (which he had been part of when his relatives or friends had
been involved) or his personal situation with his fiancée (to whom many entries in the diary
are addressed until her arrival in Terezin on September 12, 1942) and the youth counselor with
whom he had an affair (as he ardently reports in the diary).40 Therefore, sifting through Redlich’s
entries served as the first act of interpretation and composition in the making of Seroussi’s sec-
ondary witnessing; and to this he adds yet another testimonial layer: two short fragments from
the opening of Hans Krása’s opera Brundibár (1938/1943). Although the writing of Brundibár
predates Terezin, it has nevertheless come to symbolize the camp as more than 50 performances
of it were held there, and an excerpt of which was infamously included in the Nazi propaganda
film Der Fuhrer schenkt den Juden eine Stadt (1944).41 Instead of setting his compilation to
music, however, Seroussi delivers it through a narrator so as to avoid any musicalization or
anesthetization of its contents while animating and punctuating his textual snapshots with com-
mentative music that paraphrases excerpts from Brundibár. The opera is progressively revealed
as a filter through which Seroussi responds to the libretto while avoiding its portrayal.
Thus A Victim from Terezin juxtaposes two geoculturally adjacent primary sources that so far
have come to us disjointedly (and usually in constellations promoting triumph through suffering).42
Redlich exposes the work’s readers to the dense and unclassifiable middle ground of concentration
camp reality with its incompressible symbioses between inner and external hierarchies, yet rarely
does he talk about music. Mentioned in passing are the Freizeitgestaltung (Administration of Free
Time Activities) next to occasional sarcastic comments such as the April 13, 1944 entry, which

Redlich, The Terezin Diary of Gonda Redlich, pp. 3, 19–20, 25, 27. Seroussi opens his work with the first
entry cited (January 4, 1942).
On secondary witnessing in Steve Reich’s Different Trains (1988) see Amy Wlodarski, “The Testimonial
Aesthetics of Different Trains,” Journal of the American Musicological Society 63:1 (2010), pp. 99–141.
Redlich, The Terezin Diary of Gonda Redlich, pp. 14, 28, 36, 42–43, 45, 52–55, 81, 90–91, 98, 106–108,
129, 134–135.
Joe Pearce, “Brundibár at Theresienstadt: A People’s Struggle to Maintain a Level of Musical Culture in
the Face of Imminent Peril,” Musical Quarterly 10:4 (1994), pp. 39–50; Joša Karas, Music in Terezín 1941–
1945, 2nd ed. (Hillsdale: Pendragon Press, 2008), pp. 77–88; and Karel Margry, “‘Theresienstadt’ (1944–
1945): The Nazi Propaganda Film Depicting the Concentration Camp As Paradise,” Historical Journal of
Film, Radio & Television 12:2 (1992), pp. 145–162.
Josef Bor, Terezin Requiem (London: Knopf, 1963); Ruth Elias, Triumph of Hope: From Theresienstadt
and Auschwitz to Israel (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1998); and Karas, Music in Terezín 1941–1945.
Dapim: Studies on the Holocaust 11

notes that on that ‘bright afternoon’ a Jewish orchestra played in the city square, ‘as if a hard war full
of blood was not being fought, as war of survival … So the new orchestra played when people were
permitted to stroll. But the melody never blocked out the memory of the terrible sacrifice, the
pogroms, the danger still ahead of us, the danger that only now has a new face.’43 Confronting
the two sources – the diary and the two excerpts from Brundibár (the surviving objects that
attest to Redlich and Krása’s killing) – Seroussi’s composition ranges from orchestral touchups
to fragmentations that constantly undergoes melodic displacements, textural variations and even
paraphrasing amid non-pitched assonances in the percussion.
Accompanying the narration are therefore not only identifiable variants and variations, but also
augmentations and diminutions of melodic lines or fragmentary harmonic progressions that result in
acoustically fracturing the quoted of Brundibár. Such disarticulation continues with pointillistic tex-
tures that draw on the cited material while displacing its melodic lines (or parts thereof), thereby
denying them of their original tonal context. In another instance, Seroussi shifts unisonal
melodic lines diagonally in order to create a heterophonic texture that paraphrases Brundibár
while portraying Redlich’s entry of August 30, 1942: ‘I have started learning Arabic. Before I
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get to Eretz Israel I want to master Hebrew. Then I could read the papers, the literature, speak.
Then I would have time to study Arabic. It won’t hurt if I lay foundations to study Arabic in the
Diaspora.’44 Seeking to avoid romanticist portrayals and reversions to representational paradigms,
Seroussi manages to remain adjacent to his libretto throughout most of the work, yet here he colors
Redlich’s reference to Arabic with and through the textural properties of Eastern music, by slightly
shifting what should have been a unisonal variant of Brundibár into simultaneous unfolding of
similar variants in short delays and amid quarter-tones. Though by no means redemptive, such a
portrayal runs the risk of becoming telegraphic even if one attributes such innocence to Redlich
himself, who elsewhere in his diary (June 25–26, 1942) discloses naively ‘It is incumbent upon
all Jews to learn Arabic.’45 Such semantic slips of the pen, however, are the exception to the
rule in A Victim from Terezin, as it distributes enough disarticulated variants of Brundibár to the
point of alienating the opera (whose very circulation has become a symbol of spiritual resistance),
using its broken pieces and at times its intervallic atoms to animate Redlich’s entries through inter-
vals and rhythms drawn on the operatic excerpts, or display assonances of rhythmic splinters that
lose their pitch when echoed in the percussion. Brundibár, in other words, is kept simmering under
the veneer of Seroussi’s variants and libretto, as he allows the operatic excerpts to gush out in the
form of identifiable paraphrases close to the source, yet deformed enough to illustrate their distance
from it. Much like the refrain of the previously mentioned ‘Vayl ikh bin a yidale’, such appearances
gradually lose their naiveté as they recur, even when Seroussi displays them in order to reset the
scene in accordance with the thematic changes in Redlich’s entries.
This entire mechanism is further condensed when Redlich’s entry of November 9, 1942 is
heard: ‘They are making a film. Jewish actors, happy, satisfied, happy faces in the film, only in
the film.’46 This entry rushes Seroussi to compress all of the variants and variations he had dis-
played heretofore and rearrange them in the form of a quick summary that records his own sonic
documentary at exactly the same moment at which Redlich observes the beautification of the
camp as part of the preparation for the propaganda film. Seroussi’s musical ‘polaroids’ thus
further distance themselves from Brundibár as they near Redlich’s final entry, which is written
to his seven-month-old son, Dan, on October 6, 1944: ‘Tomorrow we travel my son … But

Redlich, The Terezin Diary of Gonda Redlich, pp. 110, 155.
Redlich, The Terezin Diary of Gonda Redlich, pp. 67–68.
Redlich, The Terezin Diary of Gonda Redlich, p. 52.
Redlich, The Terezin Diary of Gonda Redlich, p. 83.
12 A. Shelleg

never mind … All of our family [has] already left in the last weeks.’47 A Victim from Terezin
comes to an end after fifteen minutes of constant fluttering and quivering of the fragments
from Brundibár. Behind them stands the composer pulling his strings, muting triumphalism,
and continuously wary of succumbing to portrayals.

Resuming dialectical flows

Tzvi Avni’s compositions, the last on our continuum, are part of two intertwined dialectical pro-
cesses: the larger canvas of modern Jewish art music in the twentieth century with its aesthetic
dilemmas of identity constructionism under the purview of nationalism, and Avni’s own compo-
sitional dialectics, which stretches from earlier works such as The Destruction of Jerusalem
(1968), Jerusalem of the Heavens (1968), Five Pantomimes (1968), On Mercy (1974; a setting
of Yehuda Amichai’s ‘God Full of Mercy’), and, most notably, his second piano sonata,
Epitaph (1974–9), based on Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav’s tale ‘The Seven Beggars.’ Contemplat-
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ing binary modes of representation of Jewish musical markers (and the tonal context that has
enabled them), these works show a gradual consolidation of a twelve-tone synthetic mode in
which the most characteristic and stereotypical intervallic signifier one finds in Eastern European
melody types – the augmented second – is embedded in a linear scalar system that this interval
animates as it loses its stereotypy. In more specific musical terms, Avni converts the two notes
that facilitate the augmented second into a double-leading tone, which gravitates to one of four
potential centers in his mode, as seen in ex. 1. Doing so, he imbibes from the Eastern European
soundscape while reconfiguring its harmonic context and avoiding reductions that would affix
melody types from this soundscape into frozen signs devoid of their dialectical flow. But the phe-
nomenological course ranging from the above-listed compositions to the setting of Primo Levi’s
‘Cantare’ to From There and Then extends beyond the dialectical return to Jewish culture of the
1960s and 1970s. Avni records the migration of Eastern European musical markers in general and
of Yiddish songs in particular, disclosing pre- and post-nationalist attires whose functionality has
faded and consequently reconfigured back into melodic (text-less) form as contrafacta devoid of
commandeering texts and nationalist appropriations. Almost unsurprisingly, this dialectical
pathway has not been part of the compensatory discourse that characterizes the music of the Holo-
caust, and it is doubtful whether the music of Se questo è un oumo, or any of the compositions that
preceded and led to it, would have received the attention it did without Primo Levi’s texts.48 After
all, the musical syntax that dialectically unfolds in Avni’s oeuvre (and as confirmed ethnographi-
cally in Levi’s ‘Cantare’) has never been recognized in non-representational formats such as
Avni’s From There and Then.

[Ex. 1: Tzvi Avni’s twelve-tone synthetic mode. Augmented seconds function as double leading tones, grav-
itating to one of four potential centers, E, A, D, and G.]

Redlich, The Terezin Diary of Gonda Redlich, p. 161.
James Loeffler, “Why The New ‘Holocaust Music’ Is An Insult To Music – And To Victims Of The
Shoah,” Tablet Magazine (July 11, 2013),
137486/holocaust-music-victims (accessed July 28, 2015).
Dapim: Studies on the Holocaust 13

Cantare (June 3, 1946):

… But when we started singing

Those good foolish songs of ours,
Then everything was again
As it always had been.
A day was just a day,
And seven make a week.
Killing seemed an evil thing to us;
Dying – something remote.
The months pass rather quickly,
But there are still so many left!
Once more we were just young men:
Not martyrs, not infamous, not saints.
This and other things came into our minds
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While we kept singing.

But they were cloudlike things,
Hard to explain.49

Primo Levi’s ‘Cantare’, the fifth movement in Avni’s Se questo è un oumo, harks back to ‘Those
good foolish songs of ours’ (in Levi’s words) – contrafacta in their pre-World War II attires that
sustain untainted memoires of life before the Holocaust for as long as they are sung. Marking the
past negatively as ‘“not martyrdom”, “not notoriety”, “not sainthood”’, indicates, as Andrew Ettin
remarks, ‘both the experiential suffering and the conceptual burden of taking on the roles that
others ascribed to those who were in the camps or that survivors felt by themselves even when
the burden is the relatively positive one bestowed by hagiography.’50 Penned on January 3,
1946, a year after Levi’s liberation from Buna-Monowitz (a satellite facility of Auschwitz),
‘Cantare’ seeks to restore the pre-Holocaust limits of the ‘we’ (even if temporarily) under the pro-
tecting auspices of music. But what Avni hears as Italian music in Levi’s lines is filtered through a
musical syntax whose clusters straddle the ground between tonality and atonality and a twelve-
tone mode that enmeshes Jewish musical markers. The visibility of these markers is then delib-
erately obscured so as to approach the materials the composer perceives as constituent yet without
exposing or reproducing them as Jewish stereotypes. Sonic visibility is instead given to fragments
of the traditional Neapolitan song ‘Santa Lucia,’ which Avni offers as his translation to ‘those
good foolish songs of ours’, in addition to a short, passing citation from Monteverdi’s
‘Lamento d’Arianna’ the only setting that has survived from his now lost opera Arianna (1608).
‘Cantare’ thus references Italian folk and art musics; both are grafted onto and steered through
Avni’s twelve-tone mode whose harmonic tensions stem from reconfigured Eastern European
musical markers (yet another relic) and affecting a deeper syntactic level that is only externally
marked by ‘Santa Lucia’ and ‘Lamento d’Arianna’. And the more “Cantare” advances, the
more stained do the “Santa Lucia” interjections and its offshoots become by Avni’s twelve-
tone mode, which progressively supplants the folksong while absorbing it into the movement’s
counterpoint. These stains then leave their compositional imprints after the last two lines of the

Primo Levi, Collected Poems, Ruth Feldman and Brian Swann (trans.) (Boston, MA: Faber and Faber,
1988), p. 6.
Andrew V. Ettin, Speaking Silences: Stillness and Voice in Modern Thought and Jewish Tradition (Char-
lottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1994), p. 122.
14 A. Shelleg

poem are heard (‘But they were cloudlike things,/Hard to explain’). They allude to Levi’s opening
with elision marks and the conjunction ‘but’, which in the poem do not disclose the earlier por-
tions of this recollection, yet affect its language, as Ettin notes, ‘like moaning intrusions from
another frequency, continuing to be heard in the midst of the songs to which the poem only
alludes’.51 Avni offers ‘Santa Lucia’ as one such possible frequency, yet the setting suggests
that this music, or anything equivalent referring to ‘Those good foolish songs of ours’, constitutes
the heterophony of memory – a cloudlike blend of voices that no harmony can sustain and in
which the different layers of the past mutually yet unsymmetrically taint each other. The
murkier the waters of Avni’s tonality become, the more one wishes for the foolish ‘Santa
Lucia’ cue to reintroduce itself.
While Avni was writing Se questo è un oumo (1998), he was also completing From There and
Then, which he had been working on since 1994. Spillovers, however, remained syntactic, and as
such they lacked the visualization necessary for them to merit the label ‘Holocaust music’. But the
dialectics shared by both works manifests the fluxes denied by aesthetics committed to nationalist
allegories. From There and Then could be considered a metonym for the contrafaca discussed pre-
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viously since both movements of the work (the prelude and the passacaglia) no longer suffice with
signals such as ‘Santa Lucia’ or the ‘Lamento d’Arianna’. Only a short, almost fleeting citation of
the Yiddish song ‘Margaritkelech’ (‘Daisies’) is heard through the middle of the passacaglia,
emptied of its former Yiddish and Hebrew lyrics and conditioned through Avni’s mode (see
ex. 1). ‘Margaritkelech’ flickers like a recollection yet reverberates with additional histories.
Its Yiddish text, written by Zalman Shneor to yet another migrating contrafactum, tells the
story of a Jewish Goldilocks, Chavale, who goes out to pick daisies in the meadow, where she
encounters a swarthy man (shvartser) who, according to the lyrics, forces himself on her.
When he leaves, Chavale, alone in the woods and most likely violated, gazes into the distance
and languorously murmurs ‘tra la la la la … ’. In Palestine/Israel the same music served to fam-
iliarize the youth with the country’s flora and fauna so as to symbolically renew their bond with
the land and, in so doing, promote territorial nationalism. But the Hebrewist version cast Chavale
as an actress in a supporting role. Gone was the parallel metonymy between daisies and Chavale,
as she was no longer a blonde and was, instead, renamed Bathsheba. Furthermore, Bathsheba’s
strolling in a male-free Israeli meadow would now become part of the background whose
center featured a local (anthropomorphized) cyclamen that is kissed by the sun that as the song
goes, ‘adorns her with a pink circlet’ (ex. 2).52
The transformation from the exilic ‘Margaritkelech’ to the Hebrewist ‘Cyclamen’ (‘Rakefet’)
resulted in a de-eroticization of the text, but musical diasporic characteristics linger through to the
point of trumping easy nationalist rhetoric in the form of ‘the negation of the diaspora’ or tropes of
‘return’.53 Avni’s passacaglia – a variation form constructed over a recurring melodic progression

Ettin, Speaking Silences, p. 121.
Gila Flam, “The Yiddish Song and Its Integration in Israeli Song, or: Why Has the Love Song Vanished?”
in Israel Bartal, (ed.), A Century of Israeli Culture (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 2002), pp. 251–260 (in
Hebrew). The centrality of local flora, moreover, was emphasized in the many illustrations found in the
songbooks and in which the flowers were disproportionally larger than the humans who studied them.
See Alec Mishory, Lo and Behold: Zionist Icons and Visual Symbols in Israeli Culture (Tel Aviv: Am
Oved, 2000), pp. 265–268 (in Hebrew).
Other examples demonstrate the eroticization of lyrics set to preexisting pan-Hasidic melodies. The song
“In the Granary, at Moonlight” (1921) by Yirmiahu Rosenzweig, for example, depicts the granary as an after-
work lover’s spot in the agricultural colonies of pre-statehood. Its refrain betrays pan-Hasidic melodic con-
tours of a mitsve tants, an improvised rhyming niggun that begins the final public event of the wedding in
most Hasidic communities; see Yaacov Mazor and Andre Hajdu, “A Hassidic Ritual Dance, the Mitzve Tants
in Jerusalemite Weddings,” Yuval 6 (1994), pp. 164–224.
Dapim: Studies on the Holocaust 15

– does not open with ‘Margaritkelech’, but intertwines a chordal variant on its opening notes in
the middle of the second movement (the passacaglia), after several cycles of the main theme
underwent variations. The theme as well as the aggregates that gradually thicken the ensuing vari-
ations are carved from Avni’s mode, disclosing three sets of augmented seconds whose stereotypy
is constantly interrupted by chromaticism, melodic displacements, and circumvention of triadic
harmony. The three sets of augmented seconds embedded in Avni’s twelve-tone mode can
only allude to Eastern European melody types, but to which they only near without stiffening
into signs. Incomplete or displaced, shattered appearances of these melody types signal another
phase in their dialectical flow as they draw on tonal metaphors while eschewing a signifying
tonal language.
Somewhere in the middle of this phenomenological corridor, one also hears echoes of the
arrangement of ‘Margaritkelech’ Viktor Ullmann wrote in Terezin (the second movement in a
cycle of three Yiddish songs titled Brezulinka). The composer, music critic, and director of the
Studio für neue Musik in Terezin, Ullmann penned many such arrangements due to the new cul-
tural proximities to which he had been exposed in the camp, modeling them after contemporary
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art music and scoring them for the available ensembles and soloists in Terezin.54
Nearly 90 years stretch between Zalman Shneor’s lyrics and Avni’s From There and Then, yet
the contrafactum that transforms from ‘Margaritkelech’ into ‘Rakefet’ and eventually into the
text-less melody that flickers in the work under discussion complicates this chronological
vector, as the passacaglia supplants representational paradigms through several simultaneous
phases. What begins with the emptying out of both the Hebrew and Yiddish texts of ‘Margarit-
kelech’/‘Rakefet’ continues with the submergence of its melody in Avni’s musical mode whose
very design destabilizes the mutuality of citation and identity – the very reductions that ‘try to
capture an abstracted image devoid of space and movement’.55 Brought to the fore, as a result,
are dialectical movements that confirm cultural symbioses, spillovers, and processes of hybridiz-
ation. With weakened, faded musical markers, Avni disables the duplication of national tropes and
constructs as he unmutes the voices that fracture nationalist socio-symbolic orders – Jewish and

[Ex. 2 ‘Rakefet’ (‘Cyclamen’, from Levin Kipnis, Songs and Games for Kindergarten (Tel Aviv, 1923), p. 68
(text: ‘Under a rock a cyclamen wondrously grows/and the glowing sun kisses, adorns her with a pink circlet/
la-la-la … adorns her with a pink circlet’)].

David Bloch, “Viktor Ullmann’s Yiddish and Hebrew Vocal Arrangements in the Context of Jewish Music
Activity in Terezin,” in Hans-Günter Klein, (ed.), Viktor Ullmann: die Referate des Symposions anlässlich
des 50. Todestags 14–16 Oktober 1994 in Dornach und ergänzende Studien (Hamburg: Von Bockel, 1996),
pp. 79–86; see also Max Bloch, “Viktor Ullmann: A Brief Biography and Appreciation,” Journal of the
Arnold Schoenberg Institute 3:2 (1979), pp. 151–177.
Richard Taruskin, “What Else?” in Joshua Walden, (ed.), Representation in Western Music (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2013), p. 306.
16 A. Shelleg

Dilution and abandonment

Rather than advocate a modernist aversion to aesthetics or argue that the euphonious in post-
Holocaust commemoration music is an endeavor condemned to failure given the aesthetic proxi-
mity to constructions whose dynamic functionalism played a part in the Third Reich, attention
should be given to the very mechanisms of representation.56 One needs to examine their potential
to reproduce tropes of difference and detect the violations of these apparatuses in the form of dis-
articulation, reconfiguration, or re-contextualization of musical markers rather than their frozen
reductive form as stereotypes. Holocaust-related art music that uncritically reverts to affixed
Eastern European markers does not only otherize Jewish music using the same essentialized
tropes one finds in the writings of both antisemites and philosemites,57 but also inadvertently sep-
arates the Jew from the non-Jew and as a result positions itself uncomfortably close to arguments
put forth in publications such as the 1940 Lexikon der Juden in der Musik, in which a conscious
attempt was made to advocate the cultural ghettoization of Jews as these were accused of corrupt-
ing German music.58 And so the sustaining of Sheriff’s Mechaye Hametim on narrow stereotypi-
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cal paraphernalia denies the polylingualism that renders Jewish subcultures different from one
another or otherwise similar to their non-Jewish host societies. Beyond the fact that Sheriff hom-
ogenizes Jewish memory into a singular category of ethnic difference while installing a redemp-
tive trajectory whose political apotheosis dehistoricizes the Holocaust, he also negates the
dialectical movement of items frozen in time in favor of decipherability and representability.
With Seroussi’s A Victim from Terezin, the Eastern European soundscape is abandoned com-
pletely and redemptive narratives are consciously avoided. Fragmenting and interrupting found
musical objects, Seroussi echoes the modernist and neoclassicist approaches of Krása and
Ullmann (whose compositional aesthetics preceded the Third Reich) while allowing this past
to traverse his present. With this compositional arsenal Seroussi confronts Redlich’s diary, dis-
rupting in sounds those narratives whose emphases on the redeeming powers of music have
subdued the gray zone of Terezin. Doubly mediated, Seroussi’s compiling of Redlich’s diary
and the layering of his entries with paraphrases and variants from Brundibár in styles ranging
from neoclassicism to post-serialism can be seen as the musical equivalent of what Marianne
Hirsch calls ‘postmemory’, namely ‘the relationship that the “generation after” bears to the per-
sonal, collective, and cultural trauma of those who came before – to experiences they “remember”
only by means of the stories, images, and behaviors among which they grew up’. More than a

On aesthetic alternatives to anti-representational and pro-representational forms, see Brett Ashley Kaplan,
Unwanted Beauty: Aesthetic Pleasure in Holocaust Representation (Urbana: University of Illinois Press,
2007), pp. 1–16.
Max Brod, “Jüdische Volksmelodien,” Der Jude 1:5 (1916), pp. 344–345; David Ewen, Hebrew Music: A
Study and an Interpretation (New York: Bloch, 1931); Erich Müller, “Das Judentum in der Musik,” in
Theodor Fritsch, (ed.), Handbuch der Judenfrage: Die wichtigsten Tatsachen zur Beurteilung des jüdischen
Volkes, 31st ed. (Leipzig: Hammer-verlag, 1932), pp. 323–333. See also: Pamela Potter, “Jewish Music and
German Science,” in Philip Bohlman, (ed.), Jewish Musical Modernism: Old and New (Chicago, IL: Uni-
versity of Chicago Press, 2008), pp. 81–101.
This endeavor, at the same time, did not prevent the failure of the best Nazi propagandists to convey such a
bifurcation, as Ruth HaCohen has eloquently shown in her analysis of the soundtrack of Jud Süß. See Ruth
HaCohen, The Musical Libel Against the Jews (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011), pp. 340–360;
and Theo Stengel and Herbert Gerick, (eds.), Lexikon der Juden in der Musik: mit einem Titelverzeichnis
jüdischer Werke (Berlin: B. Hahnefeld, 1940). Goebbels’ encouragement of silent contemplation on
music (May 28, 1938) also attests to his awareness of the fragility of nationalist constructs in music. See
Joseph Goebbels, “The Principles for the Creation of German Art,” in Jonathan Huener and Francis
R. Nicosia, (eds.), The Arts in Nazi Germany: Continuity, Conformity, Change (New York: Berghahn
Books, 2006), pp. 183–184.
Dapim: Studies on the Holocaust 17

temporal delay and a location in an aftermath, Hirsch notes, ‘postmemory’ shares the layering and
belatedness of other ‘posts’ as it aligns itself with practices of citation and supplementary that
reflect an uneasy oscillation between continuity and rupture. Rather than a movement, method
or idea, Hirsch understands ‘postmemory’ as a ‘Structure of “inter- and transgenerational
return of traumatic knowledge and embodied experience”.59 And yet Avni challenges Hirsch’s
category. Having arrived in Mandatory Palestine from Saarbrücken in 1935 (at the age of
eight), his semantic contemplation on the meaning of Jewish music manages to de-essentialize
the Holocaust as a unique trope, much like parallel historical and historiographical paradigm
shifts that have emerged in Holocaust studies through the study of modernist paragons, postco-
lonialism, the context of genocidal acts, and intellectual history.60 While beginning with
musical objects in his setting of Levi’s ‘Cantare’ (excerpting both ‘Santa Lucia’ and Monteverdi’s
‘Lamento d’Arianna’), the writing of From There and Then conceals a crucial portion of his for-
mulation – the ‘here’ and the dialectical path leading to it. Avni does not grant the fleeting citation
of ‘Margaritkelech’ a thematic status, but rather allows it to flicker in a heterophonic texture of
memory that considers the Eastern European soundscape through the Holocaust, yet without
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objectifying it or aligning it either with or against the annals of Israeli statehood. Rather, the
flow alluded to in From There and Then signals the abandoning of representative ‘museologized’
identities in favor of dialectical movements throughout thick cultural histories.
Alone, ‘Margaritkelech’ would not qualify as a Holocaust piece, nor would Avni’s ephemeral
reference to it, unless either one of these ends is put in the context of Ullmann’s arrangement in
Terezin. Alone, nonetheless, ‘Margaritkelech’ falls under the category of ‘those foolish folk-
songs’ that are unsurprisingly absent from Levi’s poem and Avni’s passacaglia as both acknowl-
edge what traverses through their biographies and autobiographies. For Levi, it is the nearing end
of this music that threatens to lift the fog of one’s present; for Avni, it is a transitory injured recol-
lection whose movement extends throughout the twentieth century. And it is this very dialectical
movement that both wish to embody sans objectification – because representation is where things
come to a halt.

I am indebted to the editors and anonymous reviewers of Dapim for their instructive comments and

Disclosure statement
No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author.

Marianne Hirsch, The Generation of Postmemory: Writing and Visual Culture After the Holocaust
(New York: Columbia University Press, 2012), pp. 5–6 (emphasis in original).
See for example Zigmunt Bauman, Modernity and the Holocaust (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1989); Götz
Aly and Susanna Heim, Architects of Annihilation: Auschwitz and the Logic of Destruction (London: Wei-
denfeld & Nicolson, 2002); Jürgen Zimmerer, “Colonial Genocide: The Herero and Nama War (1904–8) in
German South West Africa and its Significance,” in Dan Stone, (ed.), The Historiography of Genocide
(New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), pp. 323–343; A. Dirk Moses, “Empire, Colony, Genocide: Key-
words and the Philosophy of History,” in A. Dirk Moses, (ed.), Empire, Colony, Genocide: Conquest, Occu-
pation and Subaltern Resistance in World History (New York: Berghahn Books, 2008), pp. 3–54; Donald
Bloxham and A. Dirk Moses, (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Genocide Studies (New York: Oxford Uni-
versity Press, 2010); Alon Confino, A World Without Jews: The Nazi Imagination from Persecution to Gen-
ocide (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2014).
18 A. Shelleg

This research was supported by the I-CORE Program of the Planning and Budgeting Committee and The
Israel Science Foundation (1798/12).

Assaf Shelleg is a senior lecturer of musicology at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He was previously
the Schusterman Visiting Assistant Professor of Musicology and Jewish Studies in the Department of Reli-
gious Studies at the University of Virginia (2011–2014), and had taught prior to that in the Jewish, Islamic &
Near Eastern Languages and Cultures Department at Washington University in St. Louis (2009–2011).
Shelleg is the author of Jewish Contiguities and the Soundtrack of Israeli History (Oxford University
Press, 2014), which has recently won the 2015 Joel Engel Prize for the study of Hebrew Music, and is
also a regular musical contributor to Haaretz newspaper. Email:
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