Skip to content

Music, history, and Jewish identity

Like many of us, Heather Viola, a third-year international affairs and human services combined major in the College of Social Sciences and Humanities, often faces the dilemma of finding the time to pursue all of her personal and intellectual interests. Over the past year with the help of the Gideon Klein Scholarship from the Jewish Studies Program, Viola found a way to combine many of those interests into one body of work.

“The thing with the Gideon Klein award that I love so much is that it let me blend everything into one,” Viola says. “So I have my interests in history, and in travel in the outside world. But on a smaller scale, I have my interests in children and the family, and the psychology and the sociology surrounding such a significant time period and experience, as the Holocaust was. Then, I have my musical interests.”

The award, given annually to support a Northeastern undergraduate student explore the work of a Jewish artist or musician persecuted by the Nazis, has enabled Viola to focus on the role that music played in the lives of the children at the Terezin concentration camp. She will present part of her project at the annual Northeastern Holocaust Commemoration on Monday, April 8, at 7:30 a.m. in Raytheon Amphitheater.

Music has been an integral part of Viola’s life. A trained vocalist, she has had the opportunity to sing in an international high school choir and perform in Carnegie Hall. In Boston, Viola is a soprano in the Northeastern Choral Society, as well as in the Zamir Chorale of Boston.

Starting broadly by researching the music of the Holocaust, Viola then narrowed in on the children of Terezin, influenced by her academic work and previous professional experience co-oping for Transition House, a nonprofit organization providing social services for families who have experienced domestic violence. Terezin was not the only camp in which music was important, but it was the most well-known camp for cultural activity. In this one camp, she’s uncovered the different contexts in which music influenced the children who resided there.

“Specifically if you’re looking at music, in terms of more of a sociological perspective, you’re looking at how does music represent a people and how can you learn about a time and a place and a situation based off of music,” Viola observes.

In addition to reading about children’s music in the camp, Viola also traveled to visit the camp in Prague. The scholarship supported her trip to the archives, and has given her the opportunity to meet with scholars in the area and with survivors. It was the latter with whom she was able to connect on a personal level, despite the very different life experiences.

“The way that I’ve always tried to get in touch with my identity as a Jewish person wasn’t necessarily through a religious context. It’s always really been through music and through Jewish music. And through this fellowship,” Viola explains. “This has really given me the chance to see what it means for me to have a Jewish identity.”

By Leslie Casey

More Stories

Photo of the Capitol Building at night

High stakes for politics, SCOTUS in 2018

Photo of the crashed truck that was used in the October 31st attack in Manhattan.

Weaponizing Language: How the meaning of “allahu akbar” has been distorted

Northeastern logo

Why I love studying Spanish