Leonard Cohen: “Dance Me To The End Of Love” Arose From Photo Of Death Camp Musicians


This is a song that arose from a photograph that I saw when I was a child of some people in striped pajamas prison uniforms with violins playing beside a smoke stack and the smoke was made out of gypsies and children, and this song arose out of that photograph: Dance Me To The End Of Love.1



Leonard Cohen


Note: The photo atop this post of prisoner musicians at Camp Mauthausen is only one of several such images and is unlikely to be the specific photo that inspired Leonard Cohen’s Dance Me To The End Of Love.


‘Dance Me To The End Of Love’ … it’s curious how songs begin because the origin of the song, every song, has a kind of grain or seed that somebody hands you or the world hands you and that’s why the process is so mysterious about writing a song. But that came from just hearing or reading or knowing that in the death camps, beside the crematoria, in certain of the death camps, a string quartet was pressed into performance while this horror was going on, those were the people whose fate was this horror also. And they would be playing classical music while their fellow prisoners were being killed and burnt. So, that music, ‘Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin,’ meaning the beauty there of being the consummation of life, the end of this existence and of the passionate element in that consummation. But, it is the same language that we use for surrender to the beloved, so that the song — it’s not important that anybody knows the genesis of it, because if the language comes from that passionate resource, it will be able to embrace all passionate activity.2 quotedown2


Leonard Cohen


Leonard Cohen – Dance Me To The End Of Love
Later With Jools Holland: May 14, 1993
Video posted by YalaBeniYalaYar


Update: More on this topic at Leonard Cohen On Origin Of The “Burning Violin” In Dance Me To The End Of Love

I am republishing selected posts from my former Leonard Cohen site, Cohencentric, here on AllanShowalter.com (these posts can be found at Leonard Cohen). This content of this entry was originally posted May 14, 2011.

  1. From Leonard Cohen’s introduction to Dance Me To The End Of Love at the April 10, 1988 Koln concert. []
  2. From Leonard Cohen, CBC Radio Interview (August 26, 1995). []

8 thoughts on “Leonard Cohen: “Dance Me To The End Of Love” Arose From Photo Of Death Camp Musicians

  1. again I respond……………………..love is us…………………the wonderful who……………………….we are love ………………….we are us……………………..thankyou…………………………..pat white

  2. I am, and always will be, in awe of the words and lyrics that Leonard put down to music.
    They are totally unique, and could only be written by him.
    Even his spoken words were well constructed and thought out, his insight and feeling into the human condition was without doubt, very special.
    He spoke from somewhere deep within, somewhere God like, and always calm and collected, he never rushed or wasted words.
    His serenity could be felt even though you were not beside him, it is truly a wonderful gift that he possessed.
    And although his life was often touched by loss and sadness, these things seemed to make him all the stronger as he strove to continue his work
    I was deeply saddened the day his death was announced, I cried most of the day, thinking of his pain, and his thoughts as he neared the end
    Above all I am truly thankful that I was here the same time he was, to hear and to see him in person, were highlights in my own life.
    My one remaining regret is that I was never able to meet him, to stand next to him, to be touched by someone that I revered as a shining example of humanity as it should be, as I myself would have wanted my life to have been like.

  3. Please, give me the lyrics, the voice, to supplement his. From the first song I heard of his: I was captured.

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