Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Modern Foreign Languages

Major Professor

Daniel H. Magilow

Committee Members

Michael Beckerman, Helene Sinnreich, Brad Brager, Maria Stehle


Scholars regularly point to musical activity in Theresienstadt as evidence of thriving Jewish cultural activity during the Holocaust. Even in the worst of times, this narrative runs, Jews resisted, if not physically, then through their culture. Such accounts of Theresienstadt’s musical life routinely fall back on reductive narratives that rely on ubiquitous tropes of spiritual resistance and triumph of the human spirit. While scholars remain clearly divided on the existence of spiritual resistance, such claims have led to a master narrative of Theresienstadt as a site for non-violent resistance. The suffusion of spiritual resistance claims in Holocaust representation and scholarship results in uniform narratives that increasingly shape collective memory and become embodied in redemptive tropes in representations of musical life in Theresienstadt. While such claims ostensibly provide victims a retrospective sense of agency, such “comforting fictions” potentially lead to forgetting the past. This dissertation explores how Holocaust representation, scholarship, and pedagogical projects advance particular narratives of Theresienstadt’s musical life and marginalize others. Memorial performances, in addition to scholarship on Theresienstadt, privilege positive musical memories of survivors and marginalize those that focus solely on the camp’s horrors. Through a more contextualized understanding of four major works that were rehearsed and performed in Theresienstadt—Hans Krása’s Brundibár, Giuseppe Verdi’s Requiem, Viktor Ullmann’s Der Kaiser von Atlantis (The Emperor of Atlantis), and a musical adaptation of Jan Karafiát’s children’s book Broučci (Fireflies)—I challenge prevalent redemptive narratives and seek to establish a historically nuanced understanding of the works’ multifaceted roles in the camp and beyond.

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