Aleksander Kulisiewicz collection, 1939-1986

Language of Description
Alt. Identifiers
  • 1992.A.0034.1
  • RG-55
1 Jan 1939 - 31 Dec 1986
Level of Description
  • Polish
  • German
  • Czech
  • French
  • Russian
  • Italian
  • Lithuanian
  • English
  • Japanese
EHRI Partner

Extent and Medium


oversize folder




Biographical History

Aleksander (Alexander) Kulisiewicz (1918-1982) was born in Kraków, Poland in 1918. He was a law student in German-occupied Poland when, in October 1939, he was denounced for antifascist writings, arrested by the Gestapo, and sent to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, near Berlin. An amateur singer and songwriter, Kulisiewicz composed 54 songs during more than five years of imprisonment at Sachsenhausen. After Russian troops liberated the camp on May 2, 1945, he remembered his songs, as well as those learned from fellow prisoners, dictating hundreds of pages of text to his attending nurse at a Polish infirmary. The majority of Kulisiewicz’s songs are darkly humorous ballads concerning the sadistic treatment of prisoners. Performed at secret gatherings, imbued with biting wit and subversive attitude, these songs helped inmates cope with their hunger and despair, raised morale, and offered hope of survival. Beyond this spiritual and psychological purport, Kulisiewicz also considered the camp song to be a form of documentation. “In the camp,” he wrote, “I tried under all circumstances to create verses that would serve as direct poetical reportage. I used my memory as a living archive. Friends came to me and dictated their songs.” In the 1950s, Kulisiewicz began amassing a private collection of music, poetry, and artwork created by camp prisoners, gathering this material through correspondence and hundreds of hours of recorded interviews. In the 1960s, he inaugurated a series of public recitals of his repertoire of camp songs, and issued several recordings. Kulisiewicz’s major project, a monumental study of the cultural life of the camps and the vital role music played as a means of survival for many prisoners, remained unpublished at the time of his death. He toured both Europe and the United States performing concerts of his works and the works of other Holocaust survivors until about 1980. He died in Kraków, Poland, on March 12, 1982. His archive is the largest extant collection of music composed in the camps.


The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum acquired the Alexander Kulisiewicz collection from Krzysztof Kulisiewicz in 1992.

Scope and Content

The Alexander Kulisiewicz collection contains microfilms, correspondence, music scores and notation, personal narratives, artwork, poetry, manuscripts, research notes, photograph, negatives, and various other documents compiled by Aleksander Kulisiewicz from 1945 until the time of his death in 1982. The materials in the collection relate to a variety of Holocaust topics, but mainly music, poetry, art, and theater in the concentration camps during World War II. Kulisiewicz compiled the small archive of music, poetry, literature, photographs, and sound recordings during the years after his liberation from the Sachsenhausen concentration camp at the end of World War II. Many of the reproductions in the collection are a result of Kulisiewicz borrowing materials from former fellow camp inmates and other camp survivors. He did this in order to build a research collection, which he would use to compile and publish his anthology of concentration camp music and poetry. Kulisiewicz was unsuccessful in publishing the anthology before his death but drafts for the work are found in this collection.

System of Arrangement

The Alexander Kulisiewicz collection is arranged in twenty-four series. Series 1: [Audio recordings have been separated and cataloged separately] Series 2: Records on Microfilm, 1900-1971 Series 3: Research materials (M series), circa 1960-1970 Series 4: Music notation (ZN series), circa 1964-1976 Series 5: Camp poetry (PO series), circa 1946-ca.1970 Series 6: Polskie Wydawnictwo Muzyczne (PWM series), 1960-1979 Series 7: Song texts (Series T), circa 1969-1979 Series 8: Konstanty Cwierk case (Series C), circa 1970-1979 Series 9: Aleksander Kulisiewicz's work in Czechoslovakia (CSSR series), circa 1947-1953 Series 10: Anthology drafts (BR series), circa 1960-1974 Series 11: Museum Sachsenhausen, (MS series), 1939-1961 Series 12: Archive correspondence (KA series), 1945-1971 Series 13: Foreign correspondence (KZ series), 1961-1981 Series 14: General file of camp songs (ZPO series) Series 15: Authors' corrections (SP/ka series), 1970-1980 (bulk 1970-1971) Series 16: Wlodzimierz Wnuk case, 1974-1978 Series 17: Archive of editorial work (RA series), 1939-1981 Series 18: Articles and clippings (W series), 1947-1977 (bulk 1947-1953) Series 19: Przeglad Lekarski materials (PL series), circa 1968-1981




This description is derived directly from structured data provided to EHRI by a partner institution. This collection holding institution considers this description as an accurate reflection of the archival holdings to which it refers at the moment of data transfer.