Musical Borrowings in Songs about the Holocaust by the Jews of Greece

  • Chryssie Scarlatos
Keywords: Jewish music, contrafactum, Greek Jews, Thessaloniki, World War II, Holocaust, Ladino, Judeo-Spanish, kaddish, Shoah


This article deals with songs about the Holocaust. Most of these songs have remained almost unknown until today, and this article aims to bring them out and to highlight the fact that they serve as evidence to the sufferings of the Greek people during World War II. All songs were written in Greece, and the practice of contrafactum (borrowing melodies and changing the lyrics) was applied to all of them. The borrowed melodies originate from Western music (e.g., operas), Western and Greek popular songs of the time, and from Greek folk and urban folk music. The variety of musical borrowings reveals cultural interactions between the ethnic and religious groups of the Greek land. It is also indicative of the increasing role of the mass media (radio, cinema) at that time. The lyrics of the songs are usually written in Greek and, in some cases, in Ladino (Judeo-Spanish of the Eastern Mediterranean area). Apart from having musicological interest, the songs are also important from the historical point of view. They were written either before the transportations to the extermination camps, or in the camps, or after the Holocaust. Their lyrics depict aspects of the living conditions of Jews during World War II. Moreover, these songs acted as a way of expressing feelings and thoughts.