Jazz in the Buchenwald Concentration Camp

On this Sunday, the daily Buchenwald statistics recorded nearly 89,000 inmates. Thousands waited in quarantine or lay mortally ill in the makeshift infirmaries; 71 died. In the 77 subcamps, 29,000 inmates worked twelve-hour shifts. Only the inmates in the parent camp enjoyed something like a day off on Sundays. In the evening, nearly a thousand flocked to the cinema for a concert. A hundred of them left during the intermission because they didn’t like the music. It gave the others courage and strength. The jazz band “Rhythmus” was performing.

The big band had been founded in 1944 by Czechs and Frenchmen to escape the brutal realities of the camp for at least a moment now and then. With the help of their fellow inmates, the musicians rehearsed alone and in secret. The SS occasionally permitted Sunday concerts. Thus it came about that the Buchenwald inmates heard jazz, even though outside the camp – as many of them knew – it was vilified as “degenerate” and combatted.

(Harry Stein)

Literatur: Guido Fackler, “Jazz im KZ: Ein Forschungsbericht”, in Wolfram Knauer (ed.), Jazz in Deutschland. Darmstadt 1996, pp. 49–91.