firehouse pizza banner

Cheryl Hughes: War and Music

It seems like an odd thing to say, but music has always been a part of war.  Drums and fifes and songs show up in stories about war, as well as feature films about war.  Patriotic songs are written and sung during and after war.  War and music appear to be a strange juxtaposition, until you consider that music is an expression of the soul, and war does so much damage to the soul.

During the Civil War, soldiers brought banjos, fiddles and guitars along with them to pass the time and boost morale.  “Often, bands representing Union and Confederate sides would duel the night before a battle” (

There are also examples of music during war in the Bible.  My personal favorite is found in II Chronicles.  Jehoshaphat was king over Israel at the time that the tribes of Ammon, Moab and Mount Seir decided to attack.  The battle plan included sending out singers before Israel’s army, “those who sang to the Lord and those who praised Him in holy attire.” As the singers raised their voices in praise to God, the opposing tribes turned on one another, and the end result was victory for the Israelites, who never had to raise a sword in the battle (II Chronicles 20, verses 20-22).

Recently, I ran across an interesting article about Steinway pianos and WW II.  The Steinway piano was built by a German immigrant who made his way to New York City during the 1850s.  He founded the company Steinway and Sons with a single goal: To build the best piano possible.  During WW II, there were restrictions on iron, copper and brass.  The company was requisitioned to build coffins and parts for transport planes.  They were prohibited from making pianos.  The Steinway company came up with a brilliant idea that would allow them to start production of pianos once more.  They obtained a government contract to manufacture upright pianos for the American troops.  These pianos were called Victory Verticals.  They were small upright pianos that could be airdropped onto battlefields.  The first piano was dropped by parachute, with tuning equipment and instructions attached (

The Holocaust is one of the darkest periods in world history, and what makes it even darker is the way that the Nazis used music to demoralize their prisoners.  On the website, there is an article that contains interviews with survivors of concentration camps.  These people describe how the Nazis used music as a backdrop to the torture and killing of prisoners in camps like Auschwitz.  There was a certain block in the camp that housed “the camp’s male orchestra,” violinists, clarinet players, accordion players and percussionists who were forced to play during their fellow prisoners’ torture and executions.

Aleksander Kulisiewiez is known as the man who saved the music of the Nazi camps.  Kulisiewiez was a Polish singer and journalist.  In 1940, after he wrote an article criticizing Adolf Hitler, he was sent to the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp.  While he was there, he learned songs from the other inmates, including the “Jewish Death Song,” composed by fellow inmate, Martin Rosenberg.  Following his liberation after the war, Kulisiewiez was in a Polish hospital, “seemingly babbling” when a nurse realized he was trying to get her to transcribe what he was reciting.  Before she finished taking dictation, there would be hundreds of pages of lyrics, fifty-four of which were his own composition ( and  Kulisiewiez was nicknamed the Singer from Hell.  He was.  He was a witness to how his fellow inmates had documented the horrors of war.  The songs are preserved in the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.

“In Hitler’s final hours, he listened to Jewish musicians, Arthur Schnabel, Felix Mendelssohn, Jaques Offenbach and Bronislaw Huberman” (  Isn’t that bizarre? The man who caused the deaths of 6 million Jews spent his last few minutes on earth listening to the music of Jewish composers.   

I wonder if he knew the music was written by Jewish composers.  I hope he didn’t.  It would be the ultimate poetic justice.


Bookmark and Share