Sunday, August 5, 2012

Today's Music & the Holocaust

First, a huge THANK YOU to everyone who planned, organized, presented, or otherwise participated in the US Holocaust Memorial Museum workshop (USHMM) for Holocaust educators held at the NC Center for the Advancement of Teaching (NCCAT) in Cullowhee, NC (see my previous blog post). Special appreciation goes to:
  • Jonathan Wade, the "Jolly Good Fellow" at NCCAT
  • Donna Glee Williams, organizer and planner extraordinaire at NCCAT
  • The USHMM Teacher Education Corps "road show" team (a.k.a. the Washington Wizards): Pete Fredlake (who obviously plays center), Greta Stults, Kate English, and Laurie Schaefer
  • All the catering, security, maintenance, and clerical staff at NCCAT. These folks may often labor behind the scenes, but enable everyone and everything to function.
The collective talent, knowledge and enthusiasm of our Holocaust educators in the schools continues to impress me. The partnership with the USHMM opens up exciting possibilities--and I'll track the progress right here.

On to today's topic. What do you think of when someone talks about "music and the Holocaust"? For many, the only exposure to "Jewish music" might be Adam Sandler's "Hanukkah Song." OK, it's a comedy classic, but it's hardly genuine. How about the now lost songs of the shtetls, whose melodies now are preserved as memorials to those lost civilizations?

It turns out that reverberations of the Holocaust extend deeply into today's musicians. I'm not talking about beloved Debie Friedman, the renowned Jewish folk singer who brought so many Jewish folk tales and tunes to life before her untimely death. Nope, I refer to hard-core, take-no-prisoners, serious modern rockers. Few people realize how the Holocaust lives on in the descendants of the witnesses, survivors, and victims. Here are a few examples:
  • Geddy Lee, lead singer of Rush. His nickname "Geddy" was bestowed by childhood friends imitating how his mother, a Polish immigrant who was liberated from Bergen-Belsen, used to pronounce his name (given name Gary Lee Weinrib) when calling out for him.
    • article about Geddy's Holocaust connections
    • "Red Sector A" (on the album Grace Under Pressure) song, which deals with his mother's experiences
  • David Draiman, lead singer of Disturbed (a band whose music must be played on maximum volume to achieve proper effect)
  • Gene Simmons, co-founder of Kiss, whose mother is a Hungarian survivor, lost virtually all of his family on his mother's side during the Holocaust. Although his heritage does seem to influence Gene's life, it is less clear (at least at this point) how or whether it connects to his music.
Reverberations of the Holocaust extend far beyond history books.

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