“Piesn Obozowa,” by Zbigniew Koczanowicz, is part of the Aleksander Kulisiewicz music collection at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Mr. Kulisiewicz, a Polish writer and performer and former inmate of Sachsenhausen concentration camp, devoted much of his life to documenting the creative expressions of his fellow prisoners, accumulating a significant number of field recordings of topical songs, primarily in Polish, from more than 30 Nazi camps. “Piesn Obozowa” was written in April of 1945 at Falkensee, a subcamp of Sachsenhausen where Koczanowicz was interned. It was also known as “Marsz Zbyszka Koczanowicza” (after the lyricist). The song apparently had some association with the clandestine “camp patrol” that was formed by the remaining prisoners of Falkensee in 1945, among whom was Koczanowicz. This “patrol” supposedly knew of the German arsenal of secret weapons and took arms from it to defend themselves against the prison guards.
According to Aleksander Kulisiewicz, the melody to “Piesn Obozowa” was adapted by Koczanowicz from a nineteenth-century Russian folksong. Koczanowicz’s poem was later set to an original melody by his fellow prisoner, Ludwik Zuk-Skarszewski.
Music was heard in many ghettos, concentration camps, and partisan outposts of Nazi-controlled Europe. While popular songs dating from before the war remained attractive as escapist fare, the ghetto, camp, and partisan settings also gave rise to a repertoire of new works. These included topical songs inspired by the latest gossip and news, and songs of personal expression that often concerned the loss of family and home.
The Music branch of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum collects printed music, music literature, and sound recordings. The collection encompasses an international repertoire of private and commercial recordings in diverse formats and genres, including:
- Songs of the ghettos, concentration camps, and partisan outposts
- Music suppressed by the Nazis
- Works composed or performed by exiled, persecuted, or murdered musicians
- Music from Terezin (Theresienstadt)
- Anti-Nazi songs
- Works written and performed by Holocaust survivors
Of additional interest are two sets of field recordings made in European displaced persons camps shortly after the war. These recordings — reproduced from originals created for the Jewish Historical Commission in Munich and by the American psychiatric researcher Dr. David Boder during a larger project to record survivor testimony — capture with rare immediacy the voices of survivors communicating their experiences through song. The Museum also holds material from the archives of Aleksander Kulisiewicz, a Polish writer and performer, who spent more than five years at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. Kulisiewicz devoted much of his life to documenting the creative expressions of his fellow prisoners, accumulating a significant number of field recordings of topical songs, primarily in Polish, from more than 30 Nazi camps.