Music of the Holocaust: Highlights from the Collection

Songs of the ghettos, concentration camps, and World War II partisan outposts

Roma (Gypsies)

 

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
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The arrival of Gypsy prisoners in Auschwitz (ca. 1942-1945).
The arrival of Gypsy prisoners in Auschwitz (ca. 1942-1945).
USHMM #01151, courtesy of Lydia Chagoll.
Khanci Dos in performance, USHMM Rubinstein Auditorium, December 11, 2003.
Khanci Dos in performance, USHMM Rubinstein Auditorium, December 11, 2003.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Ružena Danielová, 1982, photo by M. Prášek
Ružena Danielová, 1982, photo by M. Prášek
Courtesy of Muzeum romské kultury/The Museum of (Gypsy) Romani Culture, Brno, Czech Republic.
Auschwitz
(Aušvits)

Lyrics by: unknown

Composer: unknown

Language: Romani

 

Performed by Khanci Dos, USHMM Rubinstein Auditorium, December 11, 2003

Between 1933 and 1945, Roma (Gypsies) suffered greatly as victims of Nazi persecution and mass murder. Building on long-held prejudices, the Nazi regime viewed Gypsies both as “asocials” (outside so-called normal society) and as “racial inferiors”—believed to threaten the biological purity and strength of the “Aryan” majority. During World War II, the Nazis and their collaborators killed up to 220,000 Gypsy men, women, and children across German-occupied Europe. Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi killing center, was the site of a special Gypsy “family camp.” Established in February 1943, this camp held as many as 20,000 Gypsies, the vast majority of whom died from starvation, disease, medical experimentation, or in the gas chambers.

Among historically nomadic peoples such as the Roma, stories, poetry, and song are passed down from one generation to the next by oral tradition. Recently, however, researchers have begun collecting and publishing Holocaust-related folklore from Gypsy survivors and their families. The lament Aušvits (Auschwitz) was first recorded in the 1960s by Ružena Danielová, a survivor from the Czech town of Mutenice, and was later featured in a documentary on Gypsy music, Latcho Drom (Safe Journey). Sung in the Romani language, Aušvits draws on themes common to the repertoire of Roma folk laments, notably the singer's feelings of isolation and despair, and the symbolic image of a dark bird bearing a message from the land of the dead.

The Roma ensemble Khanci Dos (“No Problem”) was formed in 1987 in Nagyecsed, Hungary. Now based in Budapest, its main goal, according to bandleader Gustav Eros, is “to promote, through music, mutual acceptance and understanding between Hungarian Roma and non-Gypsy Hungarians.” Members of Khanci Dos—several of whom lost family during the Holocaust—learned Aušvits from the soundtrack to Latcho Drom.

Recording Source:

USHMM sound archive

Related Links:

Genocide of European Roma (article in the USHMM’s Holocaust Encyclopedia)

Auschwitz (article in the USHMM’s Holocaust Encyclopedia)

Sinti and Roma: Victims of the Nazi Era (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum educational brochure)

Károly Bari, “The Holocaust in Gypsy Folk Poetry”

Shirley A. Miller, “The Road to Porrajmos, the Gypsy Holocaust”

Further Reading/Listening:

Dušan Holý and Ctibor Nečas, Žalující Píseň (Accusatory Song: the fate of the Romanies in the Nazi concentration camps). Stráznice (Czech Republic), 1993. Includes detailed discussion of Aušvits.

 

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