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Violin Hidden in the Łódź Ghetto

Violin Hidden in the Łódź Ghetto and retrieved after the war.
US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Gift of the Estate of Henry Baigelman
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tags: displacement ghettos hope music theater

type: Equipment

Born in Łódź, Poland, Henry Baigelman and his brother David were professional musicians who came from a large, well-known musical family. In 1940, Nazi authorities forced the Baigelmans into the Łódź ghetto along with approximately 160,000 of the city’s Jews. Conditions in the ghetto were desperate. Lack of sanitation caused widespread disease, while the limited food rations provided by German authorities led to mass starvation.1

Despite these extreme hardships, the ghetto offered some limited opportunities for Jews to participate in arts and culture. The ghetto’s Jewish council (Judenrat) established a House of Culture that held musical and theatrical performances from 1941 to 1942.2 David Baigelman, who was a celebrated composer of Yiddish music before the war, became one of the two conductors of the orchestra.3 Henry played violin in the orchestra, when he wasn’t working in a factory that made caps for the German army. Permitted very little time to practice, the orchestra still managed to perform operettas, symphonies, and Jewish music. Chroniclers of ghetto life noted that music and musical performances like these allowed prisoners to “salvage something of [their] former spiritual life.”4

Much is unknown about the origins of the violin featured here, but according to Henry, it could have belonged to David or another family member from the ghetto. It appears to be an instrument for a student or a violin used in outdoor or celebratory events where musicians would not have time to tune instruments.5

In 1944, when German authorities demanded that ghetto residents turn over their instruments, David was tasked with overseeing this process.6 A German expert purchased the instruments at very low prices despite David explaining their value. Henry later explained that David then hid this violin, along with another one, in a factory attic just before the ghetto’s last remaining Jews were deported to killing centers. Henry said his brother hid his instruments “for the sake of just putting them away, knowing he would never come back and get them.” Henry and David were deported, along with the entire Baigelman family, from the ghetto to Auschwitz. Among only three survivors from the Baigelman family, he lived through imprisonment in multiple Nazi camps and a death march to Dachau.7 According to Henry, after the war, a family member went back and retrieved the instrument. 

After the war, Baigelman played this violin, as well as this saxophone, in a band called The Happy Boys.8 The band performed concerts at Displaced Persons (DP) camps and for US Army troops stationed in Germany from 1945 to 1949. The Happy Boys played Jewish music, as well as American hits that Baigelman knew from his time performing in nightclubs before the war. Henry also wrote new Yiddish songs for The Happy Boys, including “We Long for a Home.”9 This song relates the pain of the war and a nostalgia for better times: “We long for a home, a warm inviting home as before / We long for a home, for our misery the only cure.”10

In what ways does the Baigelmans’ violin help to tell the stories of the Holocaust's victims? What role might it have played in shaping and preserving Henry’s memories of persecution?

For more on life in the Łódź ghetto, see the related items in Experiencing History"Forty-two Weddings in the Łódź Ghetto""Family Life" in the Łódź Ghetto, and Calendar from the Łódź Ghetto

For more on the Łódź House of Culture and the role of music in the ghetto, see Gila Flam, Singing for Survival: Songs of the Lodz Ghetto, 1940–1945 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1992), 16–24. The concerts were also to some extent political, as Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski of the Judenrat addressed the audience after each performance (Flam, 19).

At the age of sixteen, Henry began his professional career playing in orchestras and nightclubs. Baigelman, Henry. Interview 4379. Tape 1. Interview by Sherry Amatenstein. Visual History Archive, USC Shoah Foundation. See also Joel E. Rubin, "Szpilman, Bajgelman, Barsht: The Legacy of an Extended Polish Jewish Klezmer Family," Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry, 32 (2020): 204. The Baigelmans were also related to the Szpilmans, another dynastic Jewish family of musicians in Poland. Władysław Szpilman is famously depicted in the film The Pianist (2002).

Lucjan Dobroszycki, ed., The Chronicle of the Lodz Ghetto, 1941-1944 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1984), 412. The lyrics to a song for which David wrote accompanying music describe the loss of home and an uncertain future, in the well-known genre for the ghetto inhabitants, a Yiddish lullaby: "Your bundle in your hand,/ Your house in ash and sand/ We leave you, my child/ to seek your destiny." Years later, Henry explained that music was meant to provide some small comfort to the Jews of the ghetto who lived in desperate conditions. 

Baigelman has noted that the orchestra did not have high-quality professional instruments. This violin has four fine tuners on the end of the violin; a professional violin typically has one. This is a German violin, based on an Italian model. It has a maker's label of 1785, which may be backdated to raise the value of the instrument (a common practice). It also has a repair label that indicates "Mannheim 1930." The plastic chin rest is a postwar repair.

Dobroszycki, Chronicle of the Lodz Ghetto, 471–72.

In the Lärche concentration camp, Henry and his cousin Henry Eisenman played operetta highlights—similar to the selections Henry played with the ghetto orchestra—for camp guards who gave them extra food. Henry played violin and his cousin played the accordion. Eisenman also came from a large family of musicians, and worked as an usher in the Łódź House of Culture. 

Baigelman explained that the band was formed with the help of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA). The name may have been inspired by the Jolly Boys, an interwar Polish jazz band in which Henry Baigelman’s brother Artur played piano. The band, minus Artur who died in the war, were traveling in Teheran when the Nazis invaded Poland. They remained there throughout the war. A recording they made in Teheran can be heard here and images of the band can be seen here. Henry Baigleman mentions them in an interview with a US Holocaust Memorial Museum musicologist.

See the US Holocaust Memorial Museum's collections for a copy of the lyrics in Yiddish. For more on life in postwar DP camps, see the related collection in Experiencing History, Jewish Displaced Persons in Postwar Europe.

For more on trauma, memory, and orchestra performances at DP camps, see Abby Anderton "Displaced Music: The Ex-Concentration Camp Orchestra in Postwar Germany," Journal of Musicological Research, 34:2 (2015): 141–59.On music in the camps and ghettos, and looking at its highly varied roles, see Shirli Gilbert, Music in the Holocaust: Confronting Lie in the Nazi Ghettos and Camps (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005). See also the Experiencing History item, Song from Degendorf DP Camp, for another example of music performed by displaced Jews in the postwar era.

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Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Gift of the Estate of Henry Baigelman
Accession Number 2010.472.2 a-u
Date Created
Unknown
Dimensions Height: 23.125 inches (58.738 cm) - Width: 7.875 inches (20.003 cm) - Depth: 3.500 inches (8.89 cm)
Material Wood, varnish, plastic, metal, wire.
Maker / Creator
Unknown
Owner
Henry Baigelman
Location
Łódź, Poland
Object Type Equipment
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