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: