Twelve tone music has no tonal center like more conventional music. Each tone of the chromatic scale is equal in importance harmonically and melodically with the other eleven. Schoenberg developed this 'new' system almost 100 years ago, and it is still so dramatically different from music based on tonality and keys that many cannot grasp it. The subject matter for A Survivor From Warsaw is well suited for the music Schoenberg wrote for it. The music is as difficult to listen to as the story itself. The piece is for narrator, orchestra and chorus. The story depicted by the narrator:
The narrator tells the story of a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto during WW II, from the time in a concentration camp. He doesn't remember how he ended up living in the sewers of Warsaw. One day in the camp the Nazis held a roll call for a group of Jews. As the group tried to gather the guards beat the old and sick who couldn't like up fast enough. Those left on the ground were assumed to be dead and the guards asked for another count to see how many would go to the gas chamber. The guard asks for a faster and faster head count and the work ends with the Jews singing the prayer Shema Yisroel.
Schoenberg's tribute to the victims of the holocaust - A Survivor From Warsaw