Hidden In Plain View: The Music Of Holocaust Survival In Poland’s First Post-War Feature Film

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Book Chapter

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Music, Collective Memory, Trauma, And Nostalgia In European Cinema After The Second World War


Zakazane piosenki (1947, Forbidden songs) was the first feature film released in Poland after Second World War. Conceived and written by Ludwik Starski, a Polish Jewish survivor of the Holocaust, the film remarkably adopted the genre of light musical comedy to portray the diverse experiences of Warsaw’s inhabitants during the period of Nazi occupation (1939–45). The film’s score, created by Roman Palester, draws heavily on authentic popular sources, notably satirical Polish “street songs” banned by the Nazis but nonetheless performed as expressions of resistance and a means of psychological sustenance during this time of deprivation and terror. Today, the film remains an important commemorative symbol of national survival, an iconic record of Polish wartime history. Yet for all its enduring popularity, neither scholars nor the public has heretofore recognized that the film’s music provides the key to a hidden story of Jewish survival, as well as a provocative public witnessing of Soviet—not just Nazi German—aggression. This essay explores the ways in which Zakazane piosenki helped Polish Jews and non-Jews alike to reclaim, through music, notions of community in the immediate post-war years. Yet, it also compels us to consider the tensions between personal and official acts of remembering—and forgetting—within the contexts of Poland’s historically oppressive regimes and the nation’s contemporary politics.

Published By



M. Baumgartner and E. Boczkowska

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