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Finding My Jewish Identity Through the Music of the Holocaust

"I constantly seek to learn about the ancestry I have inherited and the people who came before me."

Brittany Weinstock

When I arrived at Pepperdine in August 2019, one question resided in the forefront of my mind: how would I keep my Jewish heritage alive while attending a Christian university? Growing up in a dually Christian-Jewish household and integrating both faiths into a unique religious experience, I had never been confronted with such a quandary. 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.

As a first-year student, I became a Brenden Mann scholar with the Diane and 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 inquiry that were 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 sides. In the eighth grade I wrote a book about my family’s experiences during World War II, 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, curious to understand and honor their lives in whatever way I could, even beyond the stories of my own family.

When music professor Gary Cobb offered me an opportunity to research Jewish music of the Holocaust with him as part of the Academic Year Undergraduate Research Initiative, I immediately accepted. I was interested in shedding light on these inspiring Jewish composers and highlighting elements of resistance within their music, as well as discovering their personal stories.

The research culminated in a paper, a video, and a presentation that I gave, in conjunction with the Glazer Institute, at the Seaver research symposium. 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 faced, 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 in the gas chambers, 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 interviewed Inge Auerbacher, a Holocaust survivor who shared with me her story and words of wisdom. She has written many books detailing the circumstances she and her family faced in a concentration camp near the Czech Republic town of Terezín and their eventual move to the United States in 1946. Auerbacher’s words and her work in Holocaust education have inspired me to continue that same work throughout my life.

In a matter of years, very few Holocaust survivors will be alive to tell their story, and the duty will fall 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.