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Warsaw Ghetto … Emanuel Ringelblum: “The rage of games passes all boundaries”


 

 

Emanuel Ringelblum repeatedly stigmatized in his chronicle specific “feasts during the time of plague” as it was sometimes referred to the fun of the rich in the ghetto at a time when thousands of poor Jews were dying in poverty. Here are some very shocking records from his chronicle.

On December 31, 1940, Ringelblum wrote in his chronicle: “The rage of games passes all boundaries. They tell me that every day at six o’clock, seven in the morning, you see people returning from dance halls, from balls, with balloons in half-drunken hands, singing on the street like in good pre-war times. ” (Cf. Emanuel Ringelblum: “Chronicle of the Warsaw Ghetto September 1939-January 1943.” Background: A. Rutkowski, Warsaw 1988, pp. 228-229). On February 19, 1941, Ringelblum wrote: “At the Melody Palace, a carnival party took place. with a contest for the most beautiful legs. The ghetto dances. ” (See ibid., P. 233).

Jewish elite

A little further (from February 1941, we read: “On the other side they say:” playing like in the ghetto. “The ghetto dances .The number of new night-time apartments is constantly increasing. On Żelazna -” Palermo “with offices, on Nowolipie 18-” Casanova “(see brotherhood from Leszno 13).” (See ibid., P. 243).

Another record in the Ringelblum chronicle on the same subject (from March 23, 1941): “Jewish policemen (not receiving salary) fill the most elegant premises (in company) of beautiful women. They give tone to all events. (Podkr.- JRN). Their elegant, shiny, high officer boots impress – as you can see – women. ” (See ibid., P.254). At the end of 1941, in the same chronicle, we read: “In the ghetto, it is not only in public premises that the number is growing, but also in card clubs that multiply and prosper in almost every house. A terrible, just amazing impression they do – the lamentation of children who stand on the streets – and ask for alms, or complain that they have no place to spend the night. ” (See ibid., P.347). Ringelblum writes indignantly about the increasing social contrasts in the ghetto, stating in a May 1942 record: “Demoralization in the ghetto is spreading ever wider. At the same time, when the poor are becoming paupers, covered with scraps of rags, girls dressing more and more exquisitely, as if there was no war in the world at all. There were many cases of fathers robbing their parents; they put things out of the house, sell them on the spot, have money for tinsel, for affixation, in a word, for luxury. (…) “. (See ibid., P. 387). .

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When World War II broke out in 1939, Warsaw’s Jewish population was the largest and most socially diverse in Europe. Its 380,000 inhabitants made up almost a third of the total city population, and by the time the ghetto was established in November 1940, they numbered well over 400,000. Concentrated within the ghetto walls—crammed into a fraction of the city space, in increasingly unbearable living conditions, the community organised and sustained a rich and diverse cultural life. Apart from the ‘model ghetto’ Theresienstadt, the Warsaw ghetto offered more performances, of more varied range and subject matter, and in more locations, than any other Nazi internment centre. It had a symphony orchestra, five theatres, chamber groups, choirs and cafés, and numerous concerts and informal musical events were held.

Large numbers of Jews walk and ride along a street in the Warsaw ghetto, 1940-42. USHMM (67419), courtesy of Instytut Pamieci Narodowej.

Even before the ghetto was sealed, a wide range of musical entertainments had sprung up to suit the needs of the community. Several cafés and clubs offering live musical entertainment were opened, and Leszno Street was jokingly referred to as ‘the Broadway of the Warsaw ghetto’. The ghetto newspaper reported that

The demand for artists is big. … Each coffee-house, each bar and restaurant … advertises its own rich program of sensational attractions.

Five professional theatres, both Yiddish and Polish, also operated in the ghetto. They staged serious theatrical offerings as well as lighter revue shows consisting of choral singing, dancing, musical comedy and other skits. These revues relied heavily on pre-existing musical repertoire: film music, American ragtime, cabaret, tangos, operettas and musicals (in contrast to ghettos like Vilna, where revue programmes consisted almost entirely of original material).

In addition to the theatres, one of the earliest cultural initiatives in the ghetto was the establishment of the Jewish Symphony Orchestra in late 1940. Between November 1940 and April 1942, it had four permanent conductors: Marian Neuteikh, Adam Furmanski, Szymon Pullman, and Israel Hamerman. The first concert, conducted by Neuteikh, took place on 25 November 1940, and included works by Beethoven and Grieg. In general, the orchestra performed standard symphonic repertoire, with works by Mozart, Schubert, and particularly Beethoven dominating programmes, although after Pullman’s arrival in 1941 the repertoire was expanded somewhat. Although the musicians performed in challenging conditions — inadequate lighting, bad acoustics, crumbling venues, insufficient heat — the concerts were cheap and relatively well attended.

Instrumental and vocal concerts were also regularly held. Some of the most popular performers included Diana Blumenfeld, Helena Markowitz, Liliana Roman, and the 20-year-old soprano Marysia Eisenstadt, known as the ‘nightingale of the ghetto’.

Although much of the musical activity that took place in the Warsaw ghetto drew on pre-existing repertoire, many new songs were also composed in response to the events, such as those by Paulina Braun. Some were written to provide encouragement to the ghetto inmates, some paid tribute to the heroism of certain ghetto characters, while others criticized the Jewish authorities. The pervading expression among them was one of loss – of home, livelihood, community, and family – and their spirit was most often one of sadness, despair, and cynicism.

Children and adults wait their turn to receive food at a public kitchen for orthodox Jews located at 21 Nalewki St. in the Warsaw ghetto, 1940. USHMM (15970), courtesy of Zydowski Instytut Historyczny Instytut Naukowo-Badawczy.

 

 

Sources

Gilbert, S., 2005. Music in the Holocaust: Confronting Life in the Nazi Ghettos and Camps, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kalisch, S. & Meister, B., 1985. Yes, We Sang! Songs of the Ghettos and Concentration Camps, New York: Harper and Row.

Rovit, R. & Goldfarb, A., 1999. Theatrical Performance during the Holocaust: Texts, Documents, Memoirs, Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

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http://holocaustmusic.ort.org/places/ghettos/warsaw/?fbclid=IwAR2DeU8uxyt6JGuOY2mHMNB31nG9ejPA51dEP2BE-u_Md3VV2wQIUY0A8Bs

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One comment on “Warsaw Ghetto … Emanuel Ringelblum: “The rage of games passes all boundaries”

  1. Mieczysław Sylwester Kazimierzak
    April 29, 2019

    Trzeba powrócić do oryginalnego podziału na CYWILIZACJE,jakiego dokonał Feliks Koneczny.Wyeksponował ŻYDOWSKĄ,nazywając ją CYWILIZACJĄ PODWÓJNEJ MORALNOŚCI.
    Przestrzegał przed CYWILIZACYJNĄ MIESZANKĄ,można mówić i o takiej,która jest pod znaczącym wpływem wartości ŻYDOWSKIEJ.
    Tragiczna śmierć mojego brata Janusza pokazała jak aktualnie we wrocławskich warunkach za KORUPCJĄ KOŚCIELNO-DUCHOWĄ poszła ŚWIECKA.Bóg MAMONA wspiera wartości CYWILIZACYJNEJ MIESZANKI.

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