Before thinking about how Elie Wiesel uses music as a link between the world the Jews once knew and their lives as victims of genocide, it’s important to note that genocide can be a disputed, unevenly applied term. While the Nazi genocide of European Jews killed around 5–6 million Jews, the United States’s genocide of Indigenous people killed between 12–13 million Indigenous people. Some scholars say the total amount of Indigenous deaths is much higher. Others believe the United States’s actions against Indigenous people shouldn’t be called genocide. Taking such contention into account, it’d probably be best to refrain from labeling the Holocaust “the largest genocide in history.”
As for music, think about the role the orchestra plays in the concentration camp. Throughout his account, Wiesel draws the reader’s attention to the presence of the orchestra music. The Nazis use music for their own aims. They make it a part of the oppressive atmosphere of the camp. As Wiesel writes,
The orchestra was playing a military march, always the same. Dozens of Kommandos were marching off, in step, to the work yards.
Once the Kommandos leave, the music stops; yet, according to Wiesel, “We still had the music in our ears.” Here, the omniscience of the music reflects the extent of their oppression. Even when there’s no music, they can still hear it. It’s like the music follows them. There is no way to get out of the music, just as there is no surefire way to get out of their dire circumstances.
Conversely, music can be interpreted as representing the world that the Jews once knew. Juliek used to play the violin in the Buna orchestra. He brought his violin with him and is worried that the Nazis will break it. With Juliek, one sees the violin as a link between genocide and his previous life. It’s as if the violin is what allows Juliek to hold on to his pre-genocide identity.
Eliezer hears Juliek play his violin at night. Thus, one can reason that there are two types of music at play. One kind is the music that the Nazis instigate, which reminds the Jews of their current oppression. The other kind is the music made by Jews like Juliek, which reminds Jews of the life they once knew.