Stories of Music Lesson

When Words Alone Fail: Music and the Shoah
When Words Alone Fail: Music and the Shoah


This lesson will explore some of the musical activities that took place during the Shoah, and the ways that Jews have collectively remembered the Shoah through music.

Through this lesson, learners will understand that:

  • Artistic creation did not stop during the Shoah.
  • Music played many roles during the Shoah.
  • Music created during the Shoah continues to play a significant role in the memorialization and remembrance of the Shoah.
  • Music created during the Shoah has expanded beyond the Shoah itself to be incorporated more generally into moments of memorial and remembrance.
  • Music influenced by the Shoah often holds out the promise of a better world, offering hope and/or motivating action.

Learners will listen to the music of Hirsh Glick, Gideon Klein, Flory Jagoda, Hermann Leopoldi, Steve Reich, Sheila Silver, Leonard Cohen and others.

Learners will also be asked to consider these questions and more:

  • What roles do you think music played for Jews and others oppressed by the Nazis?
  • How might music serve as a form of resistance?
  • How do compositions composed after the war differ from those composed during the war?
  • What role does music play in the creation of collective memory?


We are deeply grateful to the two people who wrote these lessons:

Lorry Black, DMA, Associate Director, Lowell Milken Center for Music of American Jewish Experience
Rabbi Dr. J.B. Sacks, Educational and Curriculum Specialist, Stories of Music; Rabbi, Congregation Am HaYam (Ventura, CA)

Our gratitude extends to the pedagogic advisors and reviewers of this lesson:
Mark Kligman, PhD, Mickey Katz Endowed Chair in Jewish Music, UCLA
Dr. Susan Helfter, USC Thornton School of Music
Rabbi Devin Villarreal, Thrive Educational Services
Cantor Julie Berlin, Temple Beth-El (San Antonio, TX)
Cantor Sheldon Levin, Congregation Neve Shalom (Metuchen, NJ)