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New Article by Dr Dana Smith, Former John A.S. Grenville PhD Studentship Holder

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The LBI London would like to congratulate their alumna Dana Smith on the publication of her essay Female Musicians and “Jewish” Music in the Jewish Kulturbund in Bavaria, 1934–38  in the volume DREAMS OF GERMANY. Musical Imaginaries from the Concert Hall to Dance Floor, edited by Prof Neil Gregor and Dr Thomas Irvine. 

This volume brings together historians, musicologists, anthropologists, and cultural studies scholars to explore the various ways in which notions of ‘Germanness’ and ‘musicality’ have been sutured together in modern times. 

A generation ago scholars interested in exploring these themes would have headed straight for Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms. This volume, by contrast, emphasizes that such stories are just as likely to be found in the basements of post-war Hamburg (where the Beatles played), or in the queer electronic dance music scene of contemporary Berlin, as they are in the symphony concert hall. The collection is thus an implicit plea for a more pluralized understanding of what constitutes ‘culture’ and where we might go to find it. Dana Smith offers a pioneering study of German-Jewish women’s involvement in Jewish musical life under the conditions of Nazi persecution in her essay. 

Previous studies of German-Jewish cultural associations during the ‘Third Reich’ have offered an image of assimilated Jews seeking to affirm their ‘Germanness’ in the face of ever-intensifying persecution by stubbornly performing the works of the Austro-German canon. Smith, by contrast, shows that this is an image derived from the study of German-Jewish men, whose greater engagement with the wider public sphere rendered them more emotionally invested in the bourgeois world of the symphony concert hall than their female counterparts. German-Jewish women, Smith argues, had fewer such investments, making them more open to rediscovering the rich traditions of non-German Jewish musical heritage at an earlier stage in the 1930s. In amateur Jewish music-making circles, where women played a more prominent role, reconnecting with these powerful musical traditions formed an important element of the emotional and cultural preparation undertaken within Jewish communities for emigration. This powerful essay will be of interest to anyone interested in the dynamics of grassroots Zionism and German-Jewish exile stories during this period.   

Dana Smith wrote her PhD under the supervision of the LBI’s director, Daniel Wildmann. She was awarded the  John A.S. Grenville Studentship in Modern Jewish History and Culture in 2012 and passed her viva in 2015. Her thesis “The Jewish Kulturbund in Bavaria, 1934-­‐1938” provides a fresh perspective on the only state-approved Jewish cultural organisation in Nazi Germany, and analyses the strategies of Jewish cultural self-representation under Nazism, as expressed (with a regional bent) in the Bavarian Kulturbund’s programme.