Last summer Patricia Hall, a music theory professor at the University of Michigan, traveled to the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum to take a look at their music manuscripts. She came across a piece that had been arranged and performed by prisoners in the Auschwitz I men’s orchestra.
The piece, one of the few works arranged and performed at Auschwitz to remain intact, is titled “The Most Beautiful Time of Life” (Die Schönste Zeit des Lebens). It features a light foxtrot feel and is based on a song by German film composer Franz Grothe.
Back in Michigan, Hall met with U-M Contemporary Directions Ensemble conductor Professor Oriol Sans, and they decided to make a professional recording of the piece. “This recording is highly significant,” states Hall. “We’re bringing this work to life, hearing it as closely as possible to what it would have sounded like at Auschwitz I in 1943.”
In October, the recording was taken at the U-M Duderstadt Center. It will become part of the collection at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. On November 30, a live performance of the piece was given at Hankinson Hall on U-M’s North Campus.
Two of the three prisoners who arranged the piece have been identified by Hall based on prisoner numbers on the manuscript. Antoni Gargul was released from Auschwitz in 1943 and Maksymilian Pilat, who was moved to Sachsenhausen in 1944, and played in the Baltic Philharmonic after the war.