In the ghettos, camps, and hideaways of World War II, music served both an artistic and a utilitarian function.  Newly fashioned topical songs acted as messengers and memory aids to pass along prison gossip or rumors of deportations, while “escapist” music, mostly songs popular before the war, offered a spell of relief from continuing daily trials.  Other forms of artistic expression, too, played important practical and psychological roles in the camps and ghettos.

For many victims of the Holocaust, art became a means of survival; “music was life.”  Art was also a means of rebellion, by which the artists created something that would last beyond the war, even if they themselves died.  By producing art, the artists ensured that the Nazis would not achieve their goal of completely exterminating the Jewish people.  These subtle acts of rebellion resonate still today with the defiance, the hope, and the strength of the creators.

After liberation, an ongoing need remained for commemorative art and music, as survivors began to convene formally to mourn victims. Art, as a tool to invoke a feeling, has long been used to express the sorrow, the pain, and the hope for a better future that accompanies discussion of the Holocaust and other genocides. [1]

From the beginning, the arts have played a central role in Holocaust remembrance at Northeastern. The Zamir Chorale, the Klezmer Music Makers, and the Machol Klezmer Band, among others, have performed for Holocaust Awareness Week, which has also included ballets, operas, and art installations.

The establishment of the Gideon Klein Award in 1997 added depth to the artistic aspects of Northeastern’s Holocaust commemoration.  Gideon Klein Scholars either create an original work of art, prepared a performance, or do research on an aspect of the arts and the Holocaust; they offer a public presentation at the annual Holocaust commemoration sponsored by the President’s office.  Gideon Klein Scholars have explored such diverse topics as Nazi censorship of the arts, children’s music in Terezin, and photography ethics in Auschwitz; performances have included “Frauenstimmen:  Women’s Voices from Ravensbrück,” “The Westerbork Caberet,” and “The Closed Town:  Poetry from Terezin,” among many others.

Gideon Klein Scholar Presentations

Please note that the performances of scholars are part of a larger presentation. Each image and link provides access to content where applicable.

Lynn Torgove

"Frauenstimmen: Women's Voices from Ravensbrück"



Heather Viola

"Children's Music in Terezin"



Elijah Botkin

"The Closed Town: Poetry from Terezin"



Alison Campbell

"The Portraitist: Wilhelm Brasse and Photography Ethics in Auschwitz"



[1] Hayes, Peter and John K Roth, eds. The Oxford Handbook of Holocaust Studies. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 610.