Listen to the lost songs of the Holocaust


The remarkable discovery of a long-lost recording spool has allowed the haunting songs of Holocaust victims to be heard again.

Found in a mislabelled canister, the ‘Henonville Songs’ contains songs in Yiddish and German from interviews with concentration camp survivors at a French refugee camp in the summer of 1946.

The spool is part of a larger work by Dr David Boder, who interviewed at least 130 Jewish survivors after World War II to preserve the history of those who had endured ‘unspeakable horrors.’

Click play to hear the songs 

THE REDISCOVERED ‘HENONVILLE SONGS’ 

In the aftermath of World War II, Dr David Boder interviewed displaced Holocaust survivors in Germany, Italy, France, and Switzerland.

A recording containing Jewish songs from a camp in Henonville, France had been referenced in his work, but remained a mystery for decades.

Researchers have now discovered it was incorrectly labeled in the archives at The University of Akron’s Cummings Center as ‘Heroville Songs.’

They’ve have shared several samples from the spool, including ‘Undzer shtetl brent’ (Our Village is Burning) by Mordecai Gebirtig.

It was performed in Yiddish by Gita Frank, who explains in the introduction that it was once sung by the composer’s daughter in the cellars of a Krakow ghetto.

The song was meant to inspire the people to rebel against the Germans, changing the original words to instead say ‘the Jewish people are burning.’

And, the recording also contains songs that the prisoners were forced to sing as they moved between labour sites at the concentration camps. 

Seventy years after the recordings were made, researchers have retrieved the voices from the antiquated wire spool, revealing songs that the Nazis forced their prisoners to sing – and the Jewish people’s songs of rebellion. 

In the aftermath of World War II, Boder interviewed displaced survivors in Germany, Italy, France, and Switzerland, recorded on 200 spools of steel wire.

While much of the work has been archived at The University of Akron’s Drs. Nicholas and Dorothy Cummings Center for the History of Psychology since 1967, one spool was never found.

The recording containing Jewish songs from a camp in Henonville, France had been referenced in his work, but remained a mystery for decades.

But, digging through the three boxes in the archives at the Cummings Center to take stock of the collection, Jon Endres came upon a spool that had been entered into the system as ‘Heroville Songs.’

After digitizing the fragile recording, the researcher was ‘blown away’ by what he’d found, he explains in a blog post.

‘I think it is one of the most important discoveries from our collections in our 50-year history,’ said Dr David Baker, the Margaret Clark Moran Executive Director of the Cummings Center.

‘The songs were recorded at a refugee camp in Henonville, France. 

‘The Nazis made the prisoners sing some of these songs as they ran to their forced labour sites and back each day.

‘That we could give the world the melody to a song sung by those sentenced to their death through forced labour during one of the most unspeakable horrors of the 20th century is remarkable.’

Digging through the three boxes in the archives at the Cummings Center to take stock of the collection, Jon Endres came upon a spool that had been incorrectly entered into the system as ‘Heroville Songs.’ After digitizing the recording, the researcher was ‘blown away’ by the find

Retrieving the voices from the 70-year-old spool wasn’t an easy task, as none of the wire recorders in the Cummings Center’s collection were compatible.

It was a year before the right model was spotted on eBay by Litsa Varonis, who has since retired from UA.

‘There was a lot of time spent on research and experimentation,’ says James Newhall, a senior multi-media producer in Instructional Services at UA, who led the search for the right wire recorder.

‘The recorder no longer uses vacuum tubes or rubber tires, and is mostly built from new parts. It has a more simple, and accurate, drive mechanism.’

The spool is part of a larger work by Dr David Boder, who interviewed at least 130 Jewish survivors after World War II to preserve the history of those who had endured ‘unspeakable horrors.’ A still from a 16mm film of Boder in Germany is pictured 

It was a year before the right model was spotted on eBay by Litsa Varonis, who has since retired from UA. Once it was modernized, the researchers were able to retrieve the voices from the spool 

The researchers have shared several samples from the Henonville Songs spool, including ‘Undzer shtetl brent’ (Our Village is Burning) by Mordecai Gebirtig.

It was performed in Yiddish by Gita Frank, who explains in the introduction that it was once sung by the composer’s daughter in the cellars of a Krakow ghetto.

The song was meant to inspire the people to rebel against the Germans, changing the original words to instead say ‘the Jewish people are burning.’

‘It felt like I was helping in some way to bring these voices to the present, voices that had become somewhat lost to the historical record,’ Jon Endres, a multimedia producer and media specialist at the Cummings Center said.

While much of the work has been archived at The University of Akron’s Drs. Nicholas and Dorothy Cummings Center since 1967, one spool was never found. The recording containing Jewish songs from a camp in Henonville, France had been referenced in his work

‘The discovery of this single canister holding a lost recording means that these songs can be heard again, they can be studied and they can inform us in a new way about the experiences, the joys, and the frustrations of these displaced persons.’

The Cummings Center shared the discovery with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, where staff has helped to translate the work, and the museum now has a digitized copy as well.

‘These songs, in the voices of those subjected to unspeakable cruelty, are a reminder of the power of memory, the value of history, and the indomitable human spirit,’ Baker says.

‘Hearing them sing again after 70 years of silence gives the world a greater understanding of the circumstances and experiences of those who were witnesses to a dark chapter in human history.’ 



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