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That could be the headline for a story about Michael Jackson, but it isn’t.

There is an interesting and moving story here of the women’s orchestra at Auschwitz.

In August 1943, the Austrian musician Alma Rose was coincidentally discovered at the experimental medical station. She was named as the new conductor, despite the fact that she was Jewish. The thirty-seven-year-old violin virtuoso was the daughter of Arnold Rose and the niece of Gustav Mahler.

Rose’s fellow prisoners described her as an extremely charismatic woman. The SS treated Rose with respect, often referring to her as Frau Alma (Mrs. Alma). From the beginning, Rose was the protégé of Hoessler and
Mandl. They placed an entire barrack at the musicians’ disposal for their personal and work use. Alma Rose was even allowed to exchange the old instruments for newer ones with better tone; she herself was given a particularly valuable instrument.

Through diplomatic maneuvers, Rose was slowly able to obtain better living conditions for all members of the orchestra. Each woman had her own relatively clean cover, straw mattress, sheet, and slept on her own plank bed. The musicians were able to wash daily and use the provisional toilet.

Nonetheless, music was forced labour, and Rose died before the war ended, probably by poisoning.

But music was also a means of survival, both in the sense of providing some security or (minimal) protection when surrounded by sudden death and unsepakable horror, and as way of finding hope and humanity and beauty.

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