Leo Strauss

Antiwar songs by Leo Strauss

The son of the Viennese operetta composer Oskar Strauss, Leo Strauss was also a talented librettist ‎and musician. However, his untimely death in Auschwitz ensured that his musical accomplishments ‎were restricted to Nazi camps, to be all but forgotten after the war. He was born in 1897, and little ‎is known of his life before his arrest and eventual imprisonment in Theresienstadt. Certainly he had ‎received extensive musical training, most likely from his father, and had worked as a cabaret writer ‎and librettist.‎

Arrested along with his wife Myra, Strauss was first sent to the ‘show camp’ of Theresienstadt, ‎where the Nazis interned a number of well-known Jewish artists and musicians. In Theresienstadt ‎Strauss became involved in the programmes of the Freizeitgestaltung (the free-time organisation), ‎particularly in cabaret productions, both as a librettist and performer. He became well-known for ‎songs that simultaneously reflected the harshness of camp life and attempted to ease it. Like most ‎cabaret writers, he relied on humour, cynicism, and irony to critique his surroundings. Perhaps his ‎most enduring contribution to Theresienstadt’s cultural scene was the chanson ‘Als-ob’ (As if), with ‎melody composed by Willy Schwartz. The song’s lyrics condemned those who lived in a world of ‎illusions and self-deception:‎

‎“I know a little city
a city really nice
I don’t call it by name
I call the city ‘as if’
There is a coffee house there
Just like the European Café
and with music playing
you feel there as if ...
there the people bear a heavy fate
as if it were not so heavy
and speak of a better future
as if it were tomorrow”.‎

Despite these critical lyrics the song became a hit, particularly as performed by the jazz band the ‎Ghetto Swingers. ‎

In October 1944, Strauss and his wife were deported to Auschwitz, where they were both killed. ‎