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On the 75th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz

It seems appropriate that I should share this song today, on the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz…

photo: Ruth Denton

January 28, 2020

It seems appropriate that I should share this song today, on the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

Moon Over Birkenau is a song I wrote in the early ’90s, a few months after having visited Auschwitz while touring through Poland.

A local pastor warned against me going there saying that there’s no such thing as merely “visiting” Auschwitz. And, of course, he was right. Visiting a trauma sight of that magnitude is to invite a kind of possession that is hard to describe, and impossible to shake off.

The song has no words simply because there aren’t any.

Birkenau was one of the several extermination camps clustered at Auschwitz, and the most notorious. Today is the 75th anniversary of the camp’s liberation.

The night that I wrote this song, I lay awake watching the moon’s light stream through our window to bathe my wife Nanci in the most delicate light as she slept safely in our bed. The terrible irony of that same serene moon having cast its glow on Birkenau only seven hours earlier inspired the song’s title.

There are two recorded versions of the song below. I wrote the song on the piano, which is not my instrument, but I do my clunky best on the original version recorded in 1997. On the second version, recorded a decade later in 2007, Mike Janzen both played the piano and wrote the orchestration (performed by the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra) which elevates the song and dignifies the memorial to a level beyond my abilities.

I include them both because both versions have their own “thing.”


Click to listen:


  1. Mary-Ellen wiebe

    Still my favourite song of yours Steve . … such depth …. such darkness enveloped with such beauty .
    This to me seems to be the whole gospel in one wordless song .

  2. Sue

    This may seem tangential, but I have just been re-reading Anthony Doerr’s, All the Light We Cannot See. For me to keep hold of the beautiful, indomitable instances of light and hope as they appear in people, nature and imagery when the reality of darkness, evil, and cruelty is also so evident, is a balancing act.
    I think the symphonic arrangement of Moon over Birkenau and Deep Calls to Deep provides the sense of the Spirit coming alongside the inconsolable and helping to carry the burden. I am extremely fond of piano as well but emotionally find some kind of companionship (something not really relief, but more support) in the full pouring out that Mike Janzen’s arrangements give.

  3. John Iverson

    This has always been one of my favourite pieces of yours Steve, and I think that both versions are equally great.
    A fitting tribute to share this on the anniversary of the liberation of this terrible place.
    Thank you!

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