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Alma Rosé (3 November 1906 – 5 April 1944) was an Austrian violinist of Jewish descent. Her uncle was the composer Gustav Mahler. She was deported by the Nazis to the concentration camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau. There, for ten months, she directed an orchestra of prisoners who played to their captors to stay alive. Rosé died in the concentration camp of a sudden illness, possibly food poisoning. Rosé's experience in Auschwitz is depicted in the controversial play "Playing for Time" by Fania Fénelon.
Alma Rosé's father was the violinist Arnold Rosé (né Rosenblum; 1863–1946) who was the leader of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra for 50 years: from 1881-1931 as well as leader of the Vienna State Opera orchestra and leader of the legendary Rosé String Quartet. Her mother, Justine (died 22 August 1938), was Gustav Mahler's sister. Alma was named for Alma Mahler.
Rosé had a highly successful career. In 1932 she founded the woman’s orchestra, Die Wiener Walzermädeln (The Waltzing Girls of Vienna). The concertmistress was Anny Kux, a friend. The ensemble played to a very high standard, undertaking concert tours throughout Europe.
Escape from the Nazis and final arrest
After the annexation of Austria with Germany in 1938 Alma and her father Arnold, himself a famous violin virtuoso, managed to escape to London. She returned to the continent and continued to perform in the Netherlands.[why?]
When the Germans occupied the Netherlands, she was trapped. A fictitious marriage to a Dutch engineer named August van Leeuwen Boomkamp did not save her; nor did her nominal status as a Christian convert. She fled to France, but in late 1942 when she tried to escape to neutral Switzerland, she was arrested there by the Gestapo. After several months in the internment camp of Drancy she was finally deported in July 1943 to the concentration camp at Auschwitz.
Upon arrival in Auschwitz, Rosé was quarantined and became very ill, but was eventually recognized. She assumed leadership of the Mädchenorchester von Auschwitz (Girls Orchestra of Auschwitz). The orchestra had been in existence before Rosé's arrival, a pet project of SS-Oberaufseherin Maria Mandel. Prior to Rosé, the orchestra was conducted by Zofia Czajkowska, a Polish teacher. The ensemble consisted mainly of amateur musicians, with a string section, but also accordions and a mandolin. The orchestra's primary function was to play at the main gate each morning and evening as the prisoners left for and returned from their work assignments; the orchestra also gave weekend concerts for the prisoners and the SS and entertained at SS functions.
Rosé conducted, orchestrated and sometimes played violin solos during its concerts. She helped to mold the orchestra into an excellent ensemble, all of whose members survived during her tenure, and after her death, all save two would live to see the end of the war. Rosé herself died, aged 37, of a sudden illness at the camp, possibly food poisoning. The orchestra included two professional musicians, cellist Anita Lasker-Wallfisch and vocalist/pianist Fania Fénelon, each of whom wrote memoirs of their time in the orchestra that were eventually translated into English. Fénelon's account, Playing for Time, was made into a film of the same name. Alma's father, Arnold Rosé, died in England not long after the war ended.
Arnold Rosé's performances together with Alma were eventually released on CD.
- The Penguin Guide to Compact Discs and Cassettes. Ivan March, Edward Greenfield, Robert Layton - 1996 "Arnold Rosé, (i) with Alma Rosé, Beethoven: String quartets Nos. 4, 10 & 14. (***) Biddulph mono LAB O56-7. The recordings were made from 1927-32. The issue is valuable in that it affords an insight into a style of playing that has long passed into history."
- Richard Newman & Karen Kirtley: Alma Rosé: Vienna to Auschwitz. Amadeus Press ISBN 1-57467-051-4
- Fania Fénelon: Playing for Time Syracuse University Press (December 1997); ISBN 978-0815604945
- Anita Lasker Wallfisch: Inherit the Truth, Thomas Dunne Books; 1st edition (April 22, 2000), ISBN 978-0312208974