Date of Award

8-2013

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts

Major

German

Major Professor

Daniel H. Magilow

Committee Members

Rachel M. Golden, Leslie L. Gay

Abstract

Brundibár, a children’s opera written by Czech composer Hans Krása (1899-1944), routinely appears in Holocaust musical scholarship as a depiction of “thriving” Jewish cultural activity during the Holocaust. First performed clandestinely in a Prague orphanage in 1942, the work was ultimately co-opted by Nazi authorities in Theresienstadt. Under the jurisdiction of the Freizeitgestaltung (Leisure Time Activities), the opera came under control of the camp administration and became part of several propaganda schemes, including the 1944 Nazi propaganda film, Der Führer schenkt den Juden eine Stadt (The Führer Gives a City to the Jews). In preparation for the International Red Cross’s visit in 1944, camp authorities initiated a Stadtverschönerung (city beautification) campaign in Theresienstadt. Accordingly, Brundibár performances moved into a performance hall, stage-managed by the SS. Yet only weeks following the Red Cross visit, most prisoners involved in the Brundibár production were sent to their deaths at Auschwitz.

The conscious resistance underlying the work’s Prague performance evaporated in the Nazi-orchestrated Theresienstadt performances. The first performance of Brundibár remains largely ignored, in favor of scholarship that focuses overwhelmingly on the concentration camp performances and inscribes them within redemptive narratives. Brundibár repeatedly appears in the commodification of memory increasingly subject to retrospective recastings of “spiritual resistance.” Through a contextualized examination of Brundibár, I argue that the inherent social stratification in Theresienstadt offered cultural activity to a select few and Brundibár’s function within the Freizeitgestalung merely furthered Nazi agenda.

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