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Official website of the Spasskaya Tower International Military Music Festival
13 July 2020

Music in the Concentration Camps

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Efim Brodskiy, prominent Russian historian and writer, dedicated majority of his professional life to gather and study materials about the heroic struggle carried out by the prisoners of the Nazi concentration camps against their torturers. In one of his works Brodskiy paid special attention to the figure of Alexey Kirilenkov, musician of the Exemplary Band.

In one of his works Efim Brodskiy wrote (with reference to Rudolf Kalmar, famous Austrian publicist): “Camp music was among the Dachau Concentration Camp practices. It was no more than window dressing presented to different commissions, inspections and delegations. But prisoners were happy to go through any experience that made their tough and joyless camp existence a little bit brighter… And if performing we had an opportunity to present those buried alive behind the barbed wire with several hours of blissful oblivion, even the most modest artistic work in those improbable concentration camp conditions could be regarded as the act of bravery. Every time thousand of people were applauding to the echo… Those were the most grateful and sincere applause that any musician could have ever heard.

Kirilenko appeared in the concentration camp in 1943. Young and cheerful guy with fair hair and blue eyes happened to be the leading trumpet player of the Moscow opera. High-end professional, he truly knew his business, always filling his work with young and playful vibes. <…> As a member of the front theatre Kirilenko was sent to the acting army that soon got encircled by the Nazis. <…> Kirilenko was captured and sent to the concentration camp. Soon it became know that Kirilenko was a musicians and several weeks later he turned into one of the most popular members of the camp’s band… Tchaikovsky’s Chanson Triste, ária from Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sadko opera, Schubert’s Serenade performed by Kirilenko alway brought the house down. <…> He performed, being glad for having that opportunity at all. When he lifted his trumpet it seemed that he forgot about the camp. He performed and carried us away to the far away dreamland.

It was the way we lived, struggled, worked and enjoyed a little bit of happiness until once several Russian prisoners were taken for interrogation to Munich. <…> One evening in spring of 1944 they took him [Kirilenko] along with other Russians to isolate in a separate block. <…>

It was on Saturday. One of the band’s members had enough courage to call on the Lagerführer and ask him to allow the trumpet player taking part in the rehearsal and then in the Sunday concert. Lagerführer pondered for a few minutes and gave his permission. Kirilenko came to us. <…> His trumpet was victorious and sad at the same time. He was performing so brightfully and movingly that his fellow musicians were literally gushing with admiration. At the end of the rehearsal he performed the Sadko aria, the sad music piece embodying all the might of the Russian lands. I had never heard him performing in such a way. Then Kirilenko handed over his trumpet, shook our hands and walked away to the special block to join his comrades. He had already known what would happen to him. While we learnt about it the following day. <…> Through the windows we saw them, and they saw us. Another hundred of steps, and there was the crematorium. They were walking that way”.

Further Brodskiy explained: “The surname of the famous Moscow artist his Austrian friend heard incorrectly and thus misinterpreted it. In fact, it was Alexey Kirilenkov, leading trumpet player of the USSR State Jazz Orchestra led by v. N. Knushevitskiy.