Playing for their lives: music, musicians and trauma in Holocaust film

Deb Waterhouse-Watson, Adam Brown

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Contemporary popular culture has frequently portrayed the Holocaust through a problematic redemptory esthetic that is seen by many scholars to banalize and trivialize the event. A significant element of this phenomenon sees music and survival thematically intertwined in fiction films about Nazi genocide, which continue to have an immense impact on collective understandings of the past. This paper analyses the representation of music and musicians in Roman Polanski's The Pianist (2002) and Markus Rosenmüller's more recent German production Wunderkinder (2011). Although in both films, the protagonists' fates similarly pivot on a musical performance, The Pianist shows that conceptualizing music as transcendent and directly connecting this with survival can negate or downplay trauma. On the other hand, Wunderkinder demonstrates the potential for film to engage with the complex, often ambiguous and fluid relationship between music, survival and trauma in the Holocaust, and to avoid engendering Holocaust narratives with redemptive meaning.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalDapim : studies on the Holocaust
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Holocaust film
  • Representation
  • Trauma
  • Music
  • Musicians
  • Survival
  • Redemption
  • The Pianist
  • Wunderkinder


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