Lecture: Jewish Music and Holocaust Survivors in East Germany

by CJS


David Shneer, University of Colorado Boulder

with Laurie Silverberg, University of Wisconsin–Madison

Event Details

Monday, April 28, 2014
12:00 p.m.
UW Hillel (611 Langdon Street)

This lecture is co-sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Madison and UW Hillel.


After the Holocaust, many Jewish communists chose to settle in the German Democratic Republic, or East Germany. Convinced that only a radically new political system could prevent the reemergence of fascism and offer an opportunity for cultural renewal, a number of Jewish composers, musicians, and musicologists rose to prominence in the new German state. But to what extent did they–could they–present themselves and their music as “Jewish?”

About the Speakers

David Shneer is Professor of History and Religious Studies, and the Louis P. Singer Endowed Chair in Jewish History, at University of Colorado Boulder. Called a “pathbreaking” scholar by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Shneer’s research focuses on 20th century European, Russian, and Jewish history and culture.  His newest book, Through Soviet Jewish Eyes: Photography, War, and the Holocaust (Rutgers University Press, 2011), finalist for the National Jewish Book Award and winner of the 2013 Associaiton for Jewish Studies Jordan Schnitzer Prize, looks at the lives and works of two dozen Soviet Jewish World War II military photographers to examine what kinds of photographs they took when they encountered evidence of Nazi genocide on the Eastern Front.  In fall 2011, the traveling museum exhibit Through Soviet Jewish Eyes debuted at the CU Art Museum in Boulder, Colorado.

His other books include Queer Jews, finalist for the Lambda Literary award, Yiddish and the Creation of Soviet Jewish Culture, finalist for the National Jewish Book Award, and New Jews: The End of the Jewish Diaspora, which has sparked discussion in publications like the Economist and the Jerusalem Post. His new project, Not On Their Last Road, examines Yiddish musical culture’s role in the clash between fascism and Communism through the life and work of Lin Jaldati, a Dutch-Jewish Yiddish-singing cabaret singer, who survived the Holocaust and was the last person to see Anne Frank alive.  After the war, she moved to East Germany and became the Yiddish diva of the Communist world until her death in 1988.

Shneer has recently been named editor-in-chief of East European Jewish Affairs, an interdisciplinary journal which is essential for an understanding of the position and prospects of Jews in the former Soviet Union and the countries of East-Central Europe. In his broader work, Shneer co-founded Jewish Mosaic, the first national Jewish LGBT organization, which merged with Keshet in 2010, and was education director of Congregation Sha’ar Zahav, the LGBT outreach synagogue of the San Francisco Bay Area, from 1997 through 2001.  His work with the Jewish non-profit world includes consulting with organizations around issues of integrating post-Soviet Jews into Jewish communal life, serving as co-chair of Limmud Colorado, vice-chair of Keshet, and working with Facing History and Ourselves, a global non profit dedicated to fostering a democratic, human-rights oriented education in high schools.

Laurie Silverberg is the Associate Director of the Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. She received her PhD in Musicology from the University of Pennsylvania, and she then held a two-year Mellon Post-Doctoral Fellowship at Columbia University. Her articles on East German music, modernism, Cold War cultural politics, and composers Hanns Eisler and Paul Dessau have appeared in a range of publications, including the Journal of Musicology, Nationalities Papers, and Current Musicology, as well as the collections Art Outside the Lines: New Perspectives on GDR Art Culture, and the Edinburgh German Yearbook. Her study of Hanns Eisler’s long-forgotten manuscript score for Clifford Odets’ play Night Music appeared last year in the German journal Musik-Konzepte. She is now at work on a new study of music-making in the city of Berlin from 1961 to the present.