Friday 27 January 2017

Holocaust Memorial Day

Today is Holocaust Memorial Day, named in remembrance of those who suffered in the Holocaust under Nazi persecution and in subsequent genocides around the world. The chosen date is the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp by the Soviet Union in 1945.

Given the rise of xenophobia, racism and hate crime in so many parts of the world, I am posting two songs from The Ballad of Mauthausen by Mikis Theodoradis as a way of commemorating this very important day in the hope that we can defeat intolerance and prejudice.

A life-long political activist, Theodorakis was tortured and imprisoned in 1967 then exiled for his resistance to the 1967-74 military junta in Greece. After his return to Greece he continued to be politically active and even today at the age of 92 he is one of the most vocal critics of the Syriza government and its betrayal of the people of Greece.

The Ballad of Mauthausen was written by poet Iacovos Kambanellis who was a prisoner in Mauthausen during WWII. At the beginning of the 1960s he wrote his memories of this time under the title of Mauthausen. He also wrote four poems on the subject and he gave Mikis Theodorakis the opportunity to set them to music. Maria Farantouris' unique dramatic voice and style complement the music. The songs are rousing and incredibly powerful and a profound testament to the power of human resistance to tyranny and oppression.

This song is about a man who describes how beautiful his beloved is and asks the other inmates if they have seen her.  The song maintains the poetic structure of the Biblical Song of Songs, until the chilling line, 'Young girls of Mauthausen, young girls of Belsen, have you seen my love?' and the answer 'We saw her in the frozen square, a number on her white hand and a yellow star on her heart'.

This song tells the story of a Jew who collapses on the 'Stairs of Death' at the base of a quarry and is shot by the guard who then orders the Greek prisoner Antonis to lift a double burden or he too will be shot.


  1. Thank you for these - they always raise goosebumps.