Discovering My Jewish Legacy through Holocaust Music

When I arrived at Pepperdine in August 2019, I had one question in mind — how would I keep my Jewish heritage alive while attending a majority Christian school? Growing up in a dually Jewish-Christian household and integrating both faiths into a unique religious experience, I never really had to ask myself that question. But now that I was on my own in college, it was time for me to create that experience for myself and dig even deeper into my relationship with my faith and with God.

My freshman year, I became a Brendan Mann Scholar with the Diane & Guilford Glazer Institute for Jewish Studies and learned where my unique faith perspective fit into this new environment. The university was open and interested in the conversation I brought to the table, honoring and respecting Christianity’s Jewish roots while recognizing how parts of both faiths could be reconciled with each other. Through the Glazer Institute, I found opportunities for discussion and questioning that was essential to an extraordinary strengthening of my faith and my heritage. 

As someone who has always been interested in history and narratives of the past, I constantly seek to learn about the ancestry I have inherited and the people who came before me on both my Jewish and Christian side. I wrote a book in eighth grade about my family’s experiences during WWII, particularly the story of my great-great aunt who hid Jews from the Nazis in the cellar of her restaurant in Slovakia. I was always in awe of people who had lived through this horrific time, and I was curious to understand and honor their lives in whatever way I could.

So when a music professor on campus offered me an opportunity to research Jewish music of the Holocaust with him as part of an undergraduate research program, I immediately took him up on the offer. I was interested in shedding light on these incredible Jewish composers and highlighting elements of resistance within their music, as well as discovering their personal stories. This culminated in a paper, a video, and a PowerPoint that I presented for the Seaver research symposium and in conjunction with the Glazer Institute. I even learned and performed a set of Yiddish songs composed in a concentration camp. I discovered how these artists, despite the extreme oppression they were under, incorporated elements of resistance into their work through themes, lyrics, Jewish and cultural folk elements, and the very act of making art itself. This research was incredibly impactful for me not only as a musician and composer myself, but as a person of Jewish heritage. Although most of these composers were eventually murdered by the Nazi regime, their stories live on through the music they created, leaving a Jewish legacy that Hitler couldn’t destroy. As I continued my research, I realized it was my duty, as both a musician and a Jew, to continue amplifying their stories and to make sure that their voices aren’t silenced as the Nazis intended. I must continue to bring this music to life and in doing so breathe life into the composers’ spirits. This is my Jewish legacy, this is what I must do in order to keep the spirit and strength of my people alive. 

As part of the project, I was able to interview Holocaust survivor Inge Auerbacher, who shared with me her story and words of wisdom. She made many impactful remarks throughout the course of our conversation; one that stood out to me the most was her emphasis on never giving up and never losing hope. Inge found a purpose throughout her time in Terezín, always making sure to keep her spirits up and hope alive. Inge’s words and her work in Holocaust education inspired me to continue that same work throughout my life. In a matter of decades, there will be no more Holocaust survivors left to tell their story, meaning the duty falls on me and my generation to continue it. And continue it I shall, upholding the legacy of those whose beautiful artistry will be honored forever in the annals of history.