Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Religious Studies

First Advisor

Elias Sacks

Second Advisor

Martin Kavka

Third Advisor

Deborah Whitehead


The presentation of Holocaust memory is a deeply contested topic that regularly appears in contemporary scholarly debates. Film has become particularly important in these discussions due to factors ranging from its use of diverse aesthetic mediums to its immense popularity in American culture. However, while Holocaust film has been the subject of a substantial body of literature, music, a key element of film, has gone virtually unnoticed. Unlike previous inquiries, my thesis addresses this lacuna, focusing specifically on the role of music in Holocaust film.

In this thesis, I argue that music plays a crucial role in Holocaust films through its interaction with other aesthetic mediums. More specifically, focusing on the genre of Holocaust documentary film, I explore how music can elicit diverse affective responses, resulting in the creation of two distinctive types of aesthetic presentations that I describe as monolithic and polylithic. As I will discuss, I understand these terms in the following manner:

Monolithic aesthetic presentation: an aesthetic presentation that employs mediums in such a way that a cohesive set of affective responses is produced.

Polylithic aesthetic presentation: an aesthetic presentation that employs mediums in such a way that a set of clashing and conflicting affective responses is produced.

As I demonstrate throughout my thesis, music’s role in the creation of these two types of aesthetic presentations proves to be a powerful element in the production of meaning, allowing Holocaust documentary films to make particular claims about how the Holocaust has been and can be experienced.