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1. Index Number : P.III.h. (Auschwitz) No. 707.

2. Title of Document : Cellist in the Auschwitz Camp Orchestra.

3. Dates : 1941 - 1945.

4. Number of pages : 9.

Language : German.

5. Author or Source : Anita Wallfisch née Lasker, London.

6. Recorded by : W. Berent, London.

7. Received from : as above, August 1957.

8. Form and Contents : The author's family was deported from Breslau in 1941, while she - at the age of 16 - and her sister were conscripted for work in a paper factory just outside Breslau. There the two sisters helped in organising the escape of French prisoners of war who worked there (for this they received a French decoration after the war). In September 1942, when they tried themselves to flee to France, they were arrested, Mrs Wallfisch, was sentenced to one year and a half and her sister to 3 1/2 years’ prison by the Breslau People’s Court.

In December 1943 Mrs Wallfisch was transferred from Breslau Prison to Auschwitz-Birkenau. As a cellist, she was incorporated into the camp orchstra, whose members were treated better than the other camp inmates, as the camp commander, Hoess took great pride in its achievements. The orchestra had to play i.e. when Hungarian Jews were sent to the gas chambers in 1944. The director of the orchestra was the violinist Alma Rosé who later died in the camp. Mrs Wallfisch mentions that the Polish Christian women, who were members of the orchestra, were very antisemitic.

In December 1944 Mrs Wallfisch and her sister, who had also meanwhile been transferred to Birkenau, were transported to the overcrowded camp of Belsen. She describes the starvation conditions in the camp and witnissed some cases of cannibalism. The guards were Hungarian SS, who treated the Jews with special brutality. The British liberated the camp on 15 April 1945.

Remarks See report by her sister, Renate Allais P. III h (Auschwitz) No. 158.

Cellist in the Auschwitz Camp Orchestra

My hometown is Breslau. There my father, Rechsanwalt Lasker, had an extensive lawyer’s practice. When after having taken over the government in Germany the National Socialists passed the ‘Judengesetze’ my father was no longer allowed to pursue his profession in the way he had done. He was only allowed to work as a law consultant without being called to the bar. He was able to continue like this until 1941.

In the meantime, in 1939, our flat with all the furniture was confiscated. My parents were forced to move together with me and my elder sister into the small flat which belonged to an uncle and an aunt of mine. At that time, I was still going to school, but then took up the study of music in order to become a cellist. Because of the measures which were taken against the Jewish population, especially the restricted allocations of food, life became very hard for us.

In the years 1941-1942 the deportations of the Jews from Breslau started. The first of us to suffer this harsh lot were my uncle and my aunt who had shared their flat with us. In 1942 both my father and my mother were also fetched from our flat and deported. The only sign of life that we received from them was a postcard, which my father had sent to us from the Isbiza concentration camp near Lublin. Since then we have never heard anything from them. Sometime later my grandmother, who was more than 80 years old, was also finally deported. She is said to have been taken to Theresienstadt. Thus only my sister and I were left in the flat, alone. After a short time, this flat was also confiscated. Soon afterwards the two of us had to move into an orphanage.

Since about 1941 my sister and I had been assigned to forced labour. I was 16 years old at that time. We had to work in a paper factory which was situated in a suburb far away from the City. Since Jews were forbidden to use public transport we had to walk the whole long way. That meant that I had to leave home as early as 4 am when I was assigned for the early morning shift from 6 am until 2 pm. The second shift had to work from 2 pm until 10 pm. The work itself that we had to do was relatively clean and not too hard

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though the quota of work that we had to achieve was gradually increased. But the pay I received was extremely small, about RM 7.00 per week. The money was far from being sufficient for even the most essential necessities of life. I was not able to replace any clothes whatsoever. This problem, together with the small rations of food that we Jews were allotted, made life almost unbearable.

Besides Jews, Polish civilian workers, deported French civilians and French soldiers who were prisoners of war also worked in this factory. My sister and I speak French fluently. Although it was strictly forbidden to speak to the prisoners of war we soon made contact with them. The foreign forced labour convicts and the prisoners of war were put up in barracks. Many of the latter were planning to escape. But they could not realise their intentions, because with the uniforms they were wearing it was impossible for them to contact people in the town whose help they could count on. My sister and I then decided to organise contacts with these people who were ready to help.

To begin with we succeeded in providing civilian clothes for a number of prisoners of war. Then we also helped them to get false documents. To achieve this, we used the fact that foreign forced labourers, including the French, among them men and also women, were from time to time granted a short holiday at home. All we had to do was to disguise the prisoners of war as forced labourers on holiday. For this purpose, we obtained, from prisoners who worked in printing shops, the relevant forms, which we filled in ourselves in Gothic script for the individual people. In this way a major number of prisoners of war succeeded in fleeing to that part of France which at that time was not yet occupied.

Finally, all the prisoners of war and their helpers everywhere in the town had known how valuable our help had been for many prisoners. In September 1942 my sister and I decided to flee to France ourselves in the same way as we had helped prisoners of war to escape. We had been informed about authorities in France who would help us there. So we filled in forms for holidays for ourselves as alleged French forced labourers and one day we went to the station with friends and some prisoners of war with the same holiday documents to set off on our journey. We were already sitting in the train for Paris when -Gestapo officials arrived and arrested us as well as the

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fleeing prisoners of war, and also our friends who had accompanied us to the station. Later I learnt that at that time there were already rumours in the town that we had successfully escaped from Germany and that in one church a special prayer had been said for us.

Obviously the Gestapo, who had suspected us for a long time because we knew the French language so well, had observed us closely for quite some time. For at the same time our helpers, whom we had in the town, were arrested. With some of these, who were also Jews, we were put together into the prison cell which was reserved for Jews. That was very useful for us because thus we were able to discuss how we could defend ourselves.

There was a rule that the Gestapo had to decide within 21 days whether arrested people were to be taken to court or to be sent immediately to a concentration camp. We breathed a sigh of relief when we learnt that legal proceedings would be taken against us at the ‘Volksgerichtshof’ and hoped to receive a really long time in prison. We knew that the Gestapo always held arrested Jews in their clutches. Even after a verdict of not guilty a Jew could not expect to be released but was invariably taken into a camp by the Gestapo. The same of course happened after you had served your time in prison.

It took about a year until my sister and I were brought to trial. During that time the Gestapo tried several times to get hold of us in order to take us to a concentration camp. But each time this was prevented by the judicial authorities. The trial that then took place was rather farcical. We had no barrister and had to defend ourselves. My sister said she was mainly responsible for the actions and for this was sentenced to three and a half years in gaol. I was sentenced to 18 months in prison for forging documents, helping the enemy, trying to flee and using false documents. My sister served her term in the women’s gaol in Jauer. I was taken to the prison in Breslau to serve my sentence.

The Breslau prison was mainly used for temporarily putting up prisoners who were transported from there to other prisons or into camps. Consequently, the food in the prison was far worse than in other similar institutions. This caused me a lot of suffering.

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It was also rather unpleasant that the cell which I had to share with three other inmates was swarming with bugs, lice and fleas. It was very difficult to get used to this situation. The treatment I experienced was routine. There was nothing in particular to complain about. On the contrary, quite a few of the prison warders, some of whom were recruited from Breslau civilians, behaved towards me very decently, perhaps because they knew that I was the daughter of Herr Lasker, the lawyer. During my imprisonment I was allotted all sorts of work, which I did welcome because the time thus passed more quickly.

There was one incident which was typical of the pedantic way the German authorities proceeded. I had wanted to take four suitcases with me on the journey to France. When I was arrested only three suitcases – as I realised later – had been taken to the prison, along with me. When it became known that one of my suitcases was missing they moved heaven and earth in order to find the suitcase. But at first all the searches were in vain. After a long time, they informed me, beaming with joy, that the suitcase had been found in Paris and had been transported back. Then I was able to see for myself that this suitcase had not been broken open. That did not mean, however, that I got it back. When I was released from prison and handed over to the Gestapo I did not see anything at all of my luggage again.

I was released from prison in order to be taken to the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp in December 1943. We had heard a lot about Auschwitz and there were also talks about the gassing there but we could not really imagine what it meant. All we knew was that being taken to Auschwitz was the worst that could happen to you. So I also believed that this would be my last journey. When before the transport I was first taken by a Gestapo official to the medical examination I asked the doctor why he was taking all that unnecessary trouble. The doctor tried to calm me, saying it would not be all that bad. After the examination I was taken to Auschwitz, together with some other so-called ‘Karteihäftlingen’ . Only later did I learn that ‘Karteihäftlinge’ were those who had previously been sentenced to imprisonment by a law-court. Being one of them meant that you were safe from the gas chamber because there might perhaps be a retrial of your case.

We arrived at night in Birkenau, the women’s camp belonging to Auschwitz,

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and were received there by SS-women in black capes. We spent the night in a barracks. The next morning, we were led into a room where we were tattooed and shaved and were due later to get new clothes. While I was standing there, stark naked and with only a toothbrush in my hand, one of the wardens approached me and asked me about my job. I was astonished to see that my answer, namely that I was a cellist, caused great excitement. I was taken to one side and had to wait there until they had finished with the others. I had no idea what they intended to do with me. But then I heard that I was regarded as an extremely valuable find. The camp had an orchestra, which was conducted by the well-known musician Alma Rosé. The commandant of the camp, Höss, was musical and set great store by the achievements of the orchestra. But up to then it had consisted only of female violinists and mandolinists. Incorporating a cellist therefore seemed to be extremely valuable.

Actually newcomers had to spend a month in the quarantine block. But the conditions in that block were so unhygienic that many of the newcomers were said to have died there already. I had to go there too at first but they promised to get me out again on the following day so that I could start playing with the orchestra. And indeed the next morning the commandant of the camp brought me into the orchestra barracks, gave me a cello with three strings and told me to play something for him.

I had not played for years and therefore was completely out of practice. But the audience was satisfied and I immediately became a member of the orchestra. The conductor, Alma Rosé, who herself was a violinist, knew a lot about music. Being very ambitious and energetic she succeeded in making the orchestra perform at a high level. She very often rehearsed with us, set high standards to each of us individually, and was furious at every single wrong note that was played. Our rehearsals lasted the whole day if we did not have to give a concert, and in exchange for that we were free from any other work. Our programme consisted only of very light music, marches, waltzes, folk songs, in particular those from Hungary and the like. We also had to accompany singers who had to present their skills.

The orchestra was active every morning, when the columns of workers left for work and in the evenings, when they returned to the camp. Moreover we had to play on Sundays for the camp inmates or also for the SS people who were the camp guards. When in 1944 thousands of Hungarian Jews were brought into the camp and were lining up in order to be taken to the gas chambers

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we also had to play something for these ill-fated people.

Incidentally, we members of the orchestra had a very special position in the camp. We owed this mainly to Alma Rosé, who was very good-looking and elegant, was considered to be indispensable in her position and knew very well how to deal with the SS people. Thanks to her influence we had all sorts of privileges. It is true we had to come to the general roll call every day, but in contrast to the other camp inmates we did not have to remain standing often for five hours. The food that we received did not vary but sometimes we got more than the others. The rules for clothing which were obligatory for the internees did not apply to us so strictly. On the contrary, for our normal orchestral performances they had white jackets made to measure for us. Wearing these we had to parade as a kind of show whenever the good conditions in the camp were to be demonstrated to high-ranking SS leaders or other personages. Only in our block did Christians and Jews live together. This caused all kinds of animosities as especially the Polish Christian women among us showed ineradicable hatred for the German Jews in particular, and the fact that all the important jobs in the chapel were occupied by Jews added fuel to this hatred. Moreover, we were the only ones who actually got the parcels which were occasionally sent by the Red Cross. Usually the SS kept these parcels for themselves.

In the camp self-government by the internees had been introduced to a considerable degree. Each barracks was subject to a block senior and each group of workers to a Kapo. These were appointed by the camp management and were responsible to them for all occurrences with those under their control. Those who got these jobs were far from being the most positive elements. The camp inmates often suffered much more from the treatment of those than from the SS. Thefts, blackmail, maltreatment were nothing out of the ordinary in the camp generally. Whoever had been clever enough to secure a job in the kitchen or in a depot had a good life, compared with the general conditions there. They used the stock that was entrusted to them for extensive bartering. Objects for exchange were above all food, clothing and cigarettes. Bartering also flourished among the other camp inmates. I have often exchanged a piece of bread for some cigarettes. People discovered while they were trading were subject to punishment. Sometimes this punishment involved having to eat these dozen cigarettes you had just ‘bought’.

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Meanwhile, my sister had also been transferred from gaol to Birkenau. She was not so lucky as I was and was put up in one of the ordinary barracks in the camp. Here she had to work very hard every day with the other inmates, which among other things meant she had to transport very heavy stones. The hard work together with insufficient food and the unhygienic conditions in the camp contributed to the fact that there were many diseases among the women, which often became real epidemics. It was especially scabies and typhus that spread widely. It often happened that the patients had to parade in front of a group of SS people. Whoever no longer seemed to be strong enough was inevitably sent into the gas chamber. I and also my sister caught typhus. When I was lying there almost unconscious a patients’ parade was taking place. Fortunately the SS leader Höss was present who recognised me as the cellist of the orchestra and gave the order to leave me lying there. On the same occasion my sister had the presence of mind to explain that she was the cellist’s sister. That also saved her from the gas chamber.

Sometime later Alma Rosé died mysteriously. Meningitis was declared to be the cause of death. But many thought the reason was poisoning. A Russian woman now became the conductor of the orchestra who however did not know anything about music. Not long after, in December 1944, the orchestra was dissolved and we were transported to Belsen. I later learnt that the primitive conditions in the camp were to be concealed from the Allies whose troops were progressing rapidly. For this reason, the Germans intended to demolish those parts of the camp where there were only (wooden) barracks, which also included the women’s camp, and to leave intact only the area in Auschwitz where there were stone buildings. Incidentally, they did not succeed in pulling down the crematorium, which was also supposed to disappear completely – it had been built too solidly.

The first sign that there would be a change for us was the fact that in our orchestra barracks the Jews were separated from the Christians. When we then received new clothes we got the worst things. This was done because we as members of the group that had been privileged in the camp so far had thus provoked the hatred and the jealousy of all the other camp inmates. Then we were checked by a doctor and finally loaded into cattle wagons for Belsen.

The Belsen camp was extremely primitive. There were only large tents with room for about

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1,000 persons and they were completely occupied. There were no lights nor any other comforts. We were forced into that room together with a further 3,000 newcomers. The tents were overcrowded to an incredible degree. If you wanted to go to the toilet it was not possible to force your way through the masses of people to the tent exit. After some days a whirlwind helped us, which tore down all the tents and dropped them onto our heads. When the panic which had been caused by this event had calmed down we were standing throughout the night in the open air while the rain was pouring down. Then we were temporarily put up in SS storerooms where we spent some time without any food at all.

Finally, we were put up in barracks where Russian prisoners of war had been before. I think we were right in supposing that these prisoners of war had simply been shot to make room for us in the barracks. Here we had at least electric light and occasionally were taken to a weaver’s shop to work there. But there was extremely little food and the diseases among us, especially typhus and jaundice, increased. But there were not yet so many cases of death at that time. From my sister, who had also come to Belsen and worked as secretary in the SS quarters, we received constant reports about the latest news of the day which in her position she was able to get.

The conditions in the camp were soon absolutely unbearable. Again and again new transports arrived from the East, also with people who had had to walk hundreds of miles and now were no longer able to keep on their feet. All these people were crammed into the barracks and it ended like this, namely people were literally lying on each other and you had no chance at all to move. Then the food was getting worse and worse and more and more irregular. Then people died by the hundreds of malnutrition. Only the strongest survived. At that time, I saw cases of cannibalism also among the men. As a punishment one man had to kneel for many hours, with a human ear in his mouth.

I owe the fact that I held out to the end only to the circumstance that I had joined up with ten other women who were former members of the orchestra. We had developed a certain routine, had a thorough wash every day, helped each other with everything and encouraged each other. Soon there were more and more signs that we would not have to wait much longer for our

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liberation. Again and again low-flying aircraft of the Allies flew over our camp, dropping their bombs very precisely only onto the SS barracks. For some days also the SS sentry squads completely disappeared from the camp but then came back again. The sentry squad consisted mainly of Hungarian SS men who treated us especially fanatically. I learnt afterwards that the English had promised the SS people to send them back to the German lines if they handed the camp over intact. At that time, however, the English had no idea how unbelievably dreadful the conditions in our camp were.

A few days before our liberation the camp inmates had not received their bread rations because of some incident. After that, during the very last days, there was no food at all. We survivors had wasted away to skin and bone and were so weak that we were hardly able to move. Around us the numbers of dead kept growing. That was the picture that presented itself to the English troops when at last they occupied the camp on 15 April 1945. The sentry squad had waited calmly for the arrival of the English, obviously relying on the promise that nothing would happen to them. Also the camp commandant Kramer was still there. I saw him sitting calmly and peacefully on an English tank and guiding the English officers through the camp. Of course, after the English had discovered the conditions in the camp the promise could no longer be valid. The SS men were immediately called to fetch the thousands of corpses from the barracks and bury them. We survivors were taken good care of by the English and that was the end of our ordeal.

Later my sister and I were awarded a medal by the French government for having helped the French prisoners of war.

Correction to page 1: Jews were not allowed to use the tram. We could travel only by train to the factory where we worked, so we had to walk to the station and were allowed to go by train but not to sit down.

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