Music of the Holocaust: Highlights from the Collection

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



United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
The origins of Muselmann


In 1938 a German circus named “Krone” (crown) arrived in Cieszyn [a town in Poland where Kulisiewicz lived at the time]. In Polish it was called “Korona.” From among the performers and artists I was attracted to a 17-year-old performer on horseback named Alicja N. As it was the period of summer vacation, I found some excuse to leave home and began traveling with “Korona.” I worked very hard hoisting tent masts, pasting circus posters, slipping little articles regarding the circus into the local papers—anything to be close to Alicja. Strongly urged by the girl, the director allowed me to perform in several shows when one of the clowns broke his leg. I was the main clown’s “assistant.” I would lie down on the sawdust, like a corpse, while the boss would beat me on the head with an inflated rubber club. I’d then get up whistling, out of the blue, “Czardasz Montiego,” and afterward a simply idiotic, unrefined couplet called “Szanghai” (Shanghai) would begin. Later, in 1940, when in Sachsenhausen I once again put on a “clown’s costume”—this time a tragic version of it—I was obsessed with that circus song. I thought to myself, the camp is some sort of dark, perverted circus of sadists and miscreants. But here they don’t hit you with inflated rubber clubs. Fellow prisoners looked like striped clowns, on whom an entire menagerie was unleashed. There was no sawdust—only cold dirt. No one had to pretend to be dead.

— Aleksander Kulisiewicz