My grandparents on my mom's side were Holocaust survivors. They never spoke much about it, because the memories were too painful. I learned a lot from books I've read and research I've done, including the fascinating information that I will describe in this post. We are fortunate enough that this is the subject of The Maestro, one of the movies featured in the 2018 Northern Virginia Jewish Film Festival!
Jewish-Italian musicologist Francesco Lotoro has spent the past 30 years uncovering some 8,000 musical works, composed largely in concentration camps and ghettos during World War II.
Lotoro, a professional pianist, has scoured Europe to discover and record music composed clandestinely in World War II camps. He has made it his life’s mission to find, preserve and popularize music that was composed by Jews and other prisoners during World War II – from entire operas written on toilet paper in Nazi camps to love songs created by POWs from all sides of the conflict.
Aided by his wife and a handful of friends, he has archived the scores he found, including symphonies, operas, folk songs, liturgical works, and also swing and gypsy music.
Some songs are slow, emotional, almost weepy symphonies. Others are driving and angry pub songs. A few are sarcastic jazz numbers. Others are shockingly upbeat - happy almost - as if the music lifted the composers out of the Nazi prison camps where they lived, saved them for just a moment from their horrific, torturous existence.
The music of the prisoners was preserved in many ways: passed on from person to person in camps until it was smuggled out, given to family members who were safe from the Nazis or simply found after the camps were liberated.
Many of the songs were written in Theresienstadt, a Czech town where prisoners could stage operas, concerts and cabaret shows. The camp saw many Jewish leaders and prominent artists from all over Europe. But some songs are from prisoners who had never before written music but felt the urge to create something beautiful among their shocking surroundings.
Lotoro has slowly been recording all the music on a set of 24 albums whenever he can cobble together the money and the musicians. Ultimately, he hopes to record all the pieces he's found so far and estimates there are likely only another 1,500 in existence - which he says pales in comparison to the music lost during the war.
Want to learn more about Lotoro and his quest to find lost music written in concentration camps? Join us for The Maestro- In Search of the Last Music on October 21 at Angelika Film Center & Café at Mosaic. The movie will be paired with "Mr. Bernstein," a short film that will be shown beforehand. Learn more and buy tickets here: https://themaestro.bpt.me.