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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 10 months, she directed an orchestra of female prisoners who played for their captors to stay alive.
Rosé died in the concentration camp of a sudden illness, possibly food poisoning. Her experiences in the camp were depicted in Playing for Time.
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 in Austria, Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Poland.
Escape from the Nazis and final arrest
After the annexation of Austria with Germany in 1938 Alma and her father Arnold, also a famous violin virtuoso, managed to escape to London. She went on her own to the Netherlands where she believed she could resume her musical career.
When the Germans occupied the Netherlands, she was trapped. A fictitious marriage to a Dutch engineer named August van Leeuwen Boomkamp did not protect 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 by the Gestapo. After several months in the internment camp of Drancy, she was 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 ("SS chief supervisor") Maria Mandel. Before 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, and lacked a bass section. 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. Apart from the official activity, she had the band rehearse and play forbidden music by Polish and Jewish composers to boost the spirits of band members and fellow inmates they trusted. She herself orchestrated Fryderyk Chopin’s Etude in E major, Op. 10, No. 3 and combined it with the lyrics she wrote. The conductor helped to mold the orchestra into an excellent ensemble, all of whose members survived during her tenure, and after her death, all except two (Lola Kroner and Julie Stroumsa) would live to see the end of the war. Rosé 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. Fénelon's account, Playing for Time, was made into a film of the same name. Alma's father, Arnold Rosé, died in England in 1946.
Arnold Rosé's performances together with Alma were eventually released on CD.
- Newman, Richard and Karen Kirtley. Alma Rose: Vienna to Auschwitz. Portland, OR.: Amadeus Press, 2003, p. 86.
- Newman, Richard and Karen Kirtley. Alma Rose: Vienna to Auschwitz. Portland, OR.: 2003, p. 82.
- Newman, Richard and Karen Kirtley. Alma Rose: Vienna to Auschwitz.Portland, OR.: Amadeus Press, 2003, p. 17.
- Newman, Richard and Karen Kirtley. Alma Rose: Vienna to Auschwitz. Portland, OR.: Amadeus Press, 2003, p. 206.
- 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