Forbidden Music: Composers banned by the Third Reich

September 7, 2016 by Stevie Whitmont
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J-Wire a monthly series by Stevie Whitmont of vignettes of Jewish composers banned in by Nazis. This month features Gideon Klein. 

Gideon Klein

Gideon Klein

The Third Reich partnered its infamous racial purification policy with parallel cultural purification laws. From 1933, the Reichskulterkammer (State Bureau of Culture) and Josef Goebbels initiated the suppression of all music, art and dance activities classed as “degenerate”.   Music composition, production and public performance events associated with Jews, Blacks or political undesirables became illegal, as did any music inclusive of jazz or atonal motifs.  This was a policy applied to both living and deceased composers.  As a result, the evolution of European classical music was completely diverted.   Jewish composers either fled, were exterminated in the camps, or manifested “internal exile” (total cessation of music activities). The following series of vignettes outlines the experience of composers banned by the Third Reich between 1933 and 1945.

Gideon Klein (1919-1945)    

Born in Moravia, Gideon Klein was studying musicology and composition in Prague when the German occupation closed down all Czechslovakian universities in 1939.  In 1941 he was interned in the Theresienstadt concentration camp, where he assisted with cultural activities, performed (piano) in concerts, and began a creative outpouring of his own compositions.  This was the time when Theresienstadt was “beautified” by the Nazis in order to deceive international Red Cross visitors about their treatment of Jews.

Klein was deported to Auschwitz in October 1944, and later to Furstengrube labor camp, where he died in January 1945, aged 25.  His work String Trio (1944) is the last of his compositions, the third movement written just nine days before he was deported to Auschwitz. This moving work is imbued with musical metaphors around the themes of deceit and exile, and hints at a devastating awareness of the violence to come.  At the point of deportation he entrusted the score to a friend, who delivered it to Klein’s sister (Eliska Kleinova) after the war.

In 1994 she initiated The Gideon Klein Foundation to propagate and perform his works and “to contribute to the spiritual values that Gideon Klein left for the cultural world.”

The Israel Chamber Project performs the music of Gideon Klein.


Sydney-based Stevie Whitmont is preparing the program notes forconcerts in June/July next year at the Sydney Jewish Museum and the Woollahra Council, performed by Woollahra Philharmonic musicians for their Chamber Proms series.

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