"Giving Voice to a Foxtrot from Auschwitz-Birkenau"

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Patricia Hall



The Collections Department of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum preserves a number of manuscripts of popular songs arranged by members of the Auschwitz I men’s orchestra. These songs, written with great care in black ink on Beethoven Papier brand music paper, often bear highly ironic, but also tragically relevant titles: “Letters That Never Arrived,” “Hours That One Can Never Forget,” “Sing a Song When You’re Sad.” In this article I describe the complex process of realizing one of these songs, “Die schönste Zeit des Lebens” (The Most Beautiful Time of Life), from a manuscript deposited in the Collections Department in 1975, to a concert performance and recording in 2018. Originally a 1941 popular song composed by the German film composer Franz Grothe with a text by Willi Dehmel, and scored for a jazz ensemble, it has been arranged by the Auschwitz I prisoners for four first violins, five second violins, a viola, two clarinets, a trombone and a tuba. Through this dramatic change in orchestration, errors are occasionally introduced, and I outline the analytical processes involved in correcting these errors and making “micro-interventions” in the score.

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