Accepted paper:

'It was so strange when we heard music': towards an anthropological analysis of violence patterns, variations and sound paradoxes in Nazi death camps


Ana Brinca (New University of Lisbon (UNL))

Paper short abstract:

This paper presents an anthropological analysis of the relationship between violence and music in Nazi death camps; based on testimonies of survivors, focuses and discusses violence patterns and variations connected with ‘the sound of music’, moral and symbolic violence encountered in that context.

Paper long abstract:

In the course of History, there have been a countless number of cases that point to the complicity between music and violence, both at the level of international confrontation and at the level of interpersonal conflict. From physical violence to moral violence, music has been used as 'accompaniment', instrument or materialization of violence, drawing the line between different 'spaces' and 'identities' or rather reinforcing 'power games'. The daily repetitive relationship between both music and violence often arises in some testimonies of Holocaust survivors as one of the recurrent patterns they experienced in concentration and/or death camps. Starting from an analysis of these testimonies, this paper aims at presenting and discussing paradoxes, patterns and variations of violence deriving from music. It also highlights several issues relating to how clearly violence manifested itself in that context and how the victims thought, behaved and reacted emotionally to it. The paper does not share the 'humanist', 'essentialist' or 'beneficial' points of view of violence; instead, decidedly opts for an approach that places the relationship between violence and music in a 'holistic whole' focusing both on the conceptual and reciprocal dynamics and the paradoxes which turn the SS using music in death camps into a materialization of violence and which turn the prisoners playing and/or listening to music in death camps into torture and humiliation; and also focusing on the definitions and meanings, as well as on the connections between patterns and variations of 'sound' violence with 'moral', 'verbal' or 'symbolic' instances of violence.

panel G56
New Directions in Anthropology