Music of the Holocaust: Highlights from the Collection

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

Concentration Camp Songs


United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
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Dr. Herbert Zipper conducts the 50th anniversary performance of <i>Dachau Song</i> at the Autumn Festival. Graz, Austria, September 23, 1988.
Dr. Herbert Zipper conducts the 50th anniversary performance of Dachau Song at the Autumn Festival. Graz, Austria, September 23, 1988.
Paul Cummins
Dachau Song
(Dachau Lied)

Dachau concentration camp, 1938

Lyrics by: Jura Soyfer

Music by: Herbert Zipper

Language: German

Playwright Jura Soyfer and composer Herbert Zipper, active in Viennese antifascist cabaret, were arrested by the Gestapo after the German-Austrian Anschluss of 1938. They met again at Dachau, where both toiled as “horses,” hauling cartloads of heavy stone throughout the camp. Soyfer and Zipper wrote Dachau Song in September 1938 as an ironic response to the motto “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work Makes Freedom) inscribed on the gate at the entrance to the camp.

Initially performed in secret, Dachau Song was eventually learned by many camp inmates. Both Soyfer and Zipper believed that exercising the intellect helped preserve a prisoner’s self-respect in the face of constant humiliation. According to Zipper, he and his coauthor made Dachau Song deliberately difficult to learn, hoping the challenge would help their comrades rise above their surroundings.

Weeks after composing the song, the two men were transferred to Buchenwald, where Soyfer died from typhoid fever at age 26. Zipper, ransomed by his family, fled to Paris and then to the Philippines, where he served as conductor of the Manila Symphony. After World War II, Zipper immigrated to the United States, working as a conductor, composer, and music educator until his death at age 92 in 1997.

This recording features Zipper conducting a male chorus and ensemble of 15 guitars and percussion in a performance marking the fiftieth anniversary of Dachau Lied, given at the Styrian Autumn Festival in Graz, Austria.

Recording Source:

USHMM recorded sound archive

Related Links:

Dachau (article in the USHMM’s Holocaust Encyclopedia) (Web site for Jura Soyfer, in German)


Listen to Herbert Zipper’s recitation of Dachau Song (donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s archives)

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Further Reading/Listening:

Paul Cummins. Dachau Song: The Twentieth Century Odyssey of Herbert Zipper. New York: Peter Lang, 1992.

Horst Jarka, ed. The Legacy of Jura Soyfer, 1912–1939. Montreal: Engendra Press, 1997.

Never Give Up: The Twentieth Century Odyssey of Herbert Zipper. 1995. Terry Sanders, dir. Documentary film. A production of the American Film Foundation, Sanders & Mock Productions.

Unpublished interview with Herbert Zipper, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Archives.




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