Monday, February 25, 2013
Stanford researcher maps melodies used in Holocaust to control prisoners
Stanford Report, July 18, 2012 Stanford researcher maps melodies used in Holocaust to control prisoners German Studies doctoral student Melissa Kagen examines where music was played in Nazi concentration camps, uncovering how music can function as a means for controlling and torturing prisoners in present-day detention facilities. By Benjamin Hein The Humanities at Stanford It's hard to imagine Bing Crosby's classic ragtime song "Sweet Sue, Just You" wafting through a Nazi German concentration camp. But at Auschwitz-Birkenau – the most infamous Holocaust prison – a mix of American jazz and ragtime classics, as well as somber hymns and marching songs, could often be heard within the camp walls. This strange medley of melodies has long intrigued Melissa Kagen, a doctoral candidate in German Studies at Stanford. So last winter, Kagen began a research project to examine the camp's musical culture in the context of geographical space. She wanted to know if where the music played in the camps – whether in the kitchen, near a gate or in cells – had different effects on the inhabitants. Using survivor testimonies and camp administration records, she is developing digital maps of the "musical geography" of the prison. By focusing on the spatial aspects of music, Kagen's research offers historical insight into how music can be used as a means for controlling and torturing prisoners in present-day detention facilities. Because it was among the first prison camps to systematically employ music in such a way, Auschwitz provides a valuable case study that sets a precedent for facilities such as Guantánamo Bay where music has been used as a form of "no-touch" torture. Measuring music's impact Scholars have long known that music was a regular part of life in Nazi concentration camps. But the inherently transient nature of sound has made it difficult to measure its impact on the camp and its inhabitants. "Music in the Holocaust is a relatively well-explored research topic," said Kagen, a student of modern German musicology and literature. "But because it does not leave a lasting historical footprint, it has not been considered spatially before." Kagen uses an unconventional interpretation method to translate the source material into a visual form. Rather than dwelling on the significance of a specific song, she focuses on references about the locations where music was heard. "Reading the first-hand accounts of prisoners, I noticed that one particular space – Block 24, near the camp entrance – kept coming up in relation to music," she said. Music, as Kagen discovered, provided a proportionally small number of prison guards with the means to maintain control over large portions of the camp without any actual physical presence. Read the full post HERE.