“Lagerkapelle” — temporary exhibition dedicated to the camp orchestras
An exhibition dedicated to the orchestras functioning in the German Nazi concentration and extermination camp of Auschwitz can be seen at the Memorial Site until 21 June.
The exhibition opened during the educational sessions "Paths of my life," dedicated to the memory of the former Auschwitz prisoner Helena Dunicz Niwińska, who was a violinist in the female orchestra of Auschwitz II-Birkenau. Museum has just published her book titled "Paths of my life. Recollections of a violinist in Birkenau,” which is a colourful and at the same time tragic description of the fate of her family (only her brother Bolesław survived the war), especially the months spent with Lagerkapelle in Birkenau.
Only a few documents on the operation of the camp orchestra have survived, hence the exhibition on "Lagerkapelle" is illustrated primarily on the basis of artistic and historical collections. It presents paintings, drawings and prints of the camp orchestra. Most frequently they show their main function - playing marching songs during the march of the prisoners to work and on their return to camp. Several works also show the prisoners/musicians playing in other situations, such as: when a captured fugitive was introduced into the camp, playing in the rehearsal room and occasional concerts.
Extremely valuable exhibits presented at the exhibition include the original sheet music and instruments of the camp orchestra, which were in the collections of the Memorial Site: an accordion, clarinet, tuba and violin. An important part of the exhibition are also the souvenirs Helena Niwińska, as well as fragments of her memoirs of both the objects themselves, as well as playing in the camp orchestra.
“The experiences associated with the views of scenes taking place at the gate of the camp, called "French" by the prisoners, were among the most depressing. Even though we tried to focus on the performance, it was not possible not to see and to hear what was happening there. The prisoners, exhausted from many hours of work, carried or dragged the corpses of those who did not survive another day of camp torment.”
Excerpt from the book “Paths of my life. Recollections of a violinist in Birkenau”.
The exhibition will be open until 21 June, 10:00 to 18:00 from Tuesday to Sunday in the rooms for temporary exhibitions (block 12).
Camp orchestra in Auschwitz
The first informal performance took place on 6 January 1941. In March the existence of the orchestra was formally approved. The orchestra consisted of 30 people (April 1941) to 120 people (first half of 1942 until the end of October 1944).
“The main task of the orchestra was to play during the commands to march to work and when they returned to the camp. Besides playing, they were required to work the same as the other prisoners, only after which could they take part in practicing. A certain convenience for musicians was the fact that commandos operating inside the camp employed them, which would always allow them to be prepared to play” (Jacek Lachendro, Orchestras in KL Auschwitz, “Lagerkapele" were also created in the Birkenau camp and subcamps camps: in the men's camp in Birkenau (August 1942), the women's camp in Birkenau (1943) and Monowitz (August 1943). Their main task was to play marching tunes to facilitate the smooth movement of prisoners to work and for their return to camp.