When Gustav Mahler’s niece greeted new arrivals at a Nazi death camp, she knew that any woman who stepped off the train with a musical instrument had a chance to live.
Women in Alma Rose’s orchestra were forced to entertain SS officers at the Birkenau concentration camp.
All the women survived — except Rose.
Now, a US ensemble of singers and musicians is paying tribute to those musicians with concerts in the US and Germany.
During the 18 months the Birkenau orchestra existed, its musicians played pieces the German officers loved — Beethoven symphonies, Puccini arias, Chopin and Strauss waltzes. The women also had to play marches for emaciated, often sick prisoners as they struggled to walk to their forced labor jobs.
All around was death — people perishing outdoors, or in filthy barracks and gas chambers. More than 1 million disappeared in this place of horror.
When the Vienna-born Rose was sent to the camp, the SS guards realized she was Mahler’s relative and had conducted an all-women’s orchestra. She was asked to form one at Birkenau.
“As the women came off transport trains, if they had a guitar, a violin, a recorder or a mandolin, they were put aside,” said Alice Radosh, who helped organize the Ars Choralis concerts. “People would hear classical music — and think, ‘How bad could this be?’”
The truth was, “we played with tears in our eyes and guns at our backs,” Radosh quoted accordion player Esther Bejarano as saying after the war.
“At Birkenau, music was indeed the best and worst of things,” wrote the late Fania Fenelon, a cabaret singer from Paris who wrote the book Playing for Time, which was turned into a television movie.
“The best because it filled in time and brought us oblivion, like a drug; we emerged from it deadened, exhausted,” Fenelon said, “and the worst because our public consisted of the assassins and the victims, and in the hand of the assassins, it was almost as though we too were made executioners.”
With the orchestra, Rose saved more than 50 women, but what killed the great composer’s niece remains a mystery.
A document signed by Josef Mengele on April 4, 1944, shows that the physician who performed experiments on prisoners was summoned to a special private room where Rose lay, slipping in and out of consciousness from an undiagnosed illness. Mengele signed a form requesting medical tests for meningitis and pneumonia that came out negative.
Rose died the next day and was respectfully laid out atop a white cloth, with floral tributes sent by SS officers, according to Fenelon’s book.
Henry Tong (湯偉雄) and Elaine To (杜依蘭) were preparing to spend their first wedding anniversary in separate prison cells until their acquittal for rioting during Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests. There were gasps and tears of relief in court on Friday last week as a judge declared prosecutors had failed to prove that the couple took part in clashes with police in July last year. The pair walked free in a ruling that has potential consequences for hundreds of other protesters facing similar charges. However, they have a long journey ahead as they try to rebuild their lives and business. “We have already been punished,”
WARNINGS OVER COMPLACENCY: The curves of new infections in numerous countries is climbing, while others see the the first new infections in months Spikes in COVID-19 infections in Asia have dispelled any notion that the region might be over the worst, with Australia and India yesterday reporting record daily infections, Vietnam fretting over a new surge and North Korea urging vigilance. Asian nations had largely prided themselves on rapidly containing initial outbreaks after the coronavirus emerged in central China late last year, but flare-ups this month have shown the danger of complacency. “We’ve got to be careful not to slip into some idea that there’s some golden immunity that Australia has in relation to this virus,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters. Australia recorded its
‘COVIDIOTS’: Politicians condemned the protest that came amid surging infections in the country, while a marcher said government-induced fear weakened the body Loudly chanting their opposition to masks and vaccines, thousands of people on Saturday gathered in Berlin to protest against COVID-19 restrictions before being dispersed by police. Police put turnout at about 20,000 — well below the 500,000 organizers had announced as they urged a “day of freedom” from months of virus curbs. Despite Germany’s comparatively low toll, authorities are concerned at a rise in infections over the past few weeks and politicians took to social media to criticize the rally as irresponsible. “We are the second wave,” shouted the crowd, a mixture of hard left and right and conspiracy theorists, as they converged
The Australian government yesterday said that it plans to give Google and Facebook three months to negotiate with media businesses fair pay for news content. In releasing a draft of a mandatory code of conduct, Canberra aims to succeed where other nations have failed in making tech firms pay for news siphoned from commercial media companies. Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said that Google and Facebook would be the first platforms targeted by the proposed legislation, but others could follow. “It’s about a fair go for Australian news media businesses, it’s about ensuring that we have increased competition, increased consumer protection and a sustainable