Anita Lasker-Wallfisch

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Anita Lasker-Wallfisch.

Anita Lasker-Wallfisch (born 17 July 1925) is a cellist, and a surviving member of the Women's Orchestra in Auschwitz.[1][2]


Lasker was born into a Jewish family in Breslau, then Germany (present-day Wrocław, Poland), one of three sisters (Marianne and Renate). Her father Alfons, brother of noted chessmaster Edward Lasker, was a lawyer; her mother a violinist.[2] They suffered discrimination from 1933, but as their father had fought at the front in World War I, gaining an Iron Cross, the family felt some degree of immunity from Nazi persecution.[1]

World War II[edit]

Marianne, the eldest sister, fled to England in 1939,[3] the only family member to escape the Holocaust on the European mainland. In April 1942, Lasker's parents were taken away and are believed to have died near Lublin in Poland.[1] Anita and Renate were not deported as they were working in a paper factory. There, they met French prisoners of war and started forging papers to enable French forced labourers to cross back into France.[1]

"I could never accept that I should be killed for what I happened to be born as, and decided to give the Germans a better reason for killing me."[2]

In September 1942 they tried to escape to France, but were arrested for forgery at Breslau station by the Gestapo. Only their suitcase, which they had already put on the train, escaped. The Gestapo were anxious about its loss, and carefully noted its size and colour.[1]

"I had been in prison for about a year. Then one day I was called down. A suitcase has arrived: could I identify it? It was my suitcase. They stole everything, they killed everybody, but that suitcase really mattered to them. They had found the suitcase and everything was fine, though I never saw it again because it then went into the vaults of the prison and later I saw a guard wearing one of my dresses."[1]

Concentration camps[edit]

Anita and Renate were sent to Auschwitz in December 1943[4] on separate prison trains, a far less squalid way to arrive than by cattle truck. Less dangerous, too, since there was no selection on arrival.[2] Playing in the Women's Orchestra of Auschwitz saved her as cello players were difficult to replace. The orchestra played marches as the slave labourers left the camp for each day's work and when they returned. They also gave concerts for the SS.[1]

By October 1944, the Red Army were advancing and Auschwitz was evacuated. Anita was taken on a train with 3,000 others to Bergen-Belsen[4] and survived six months with almost nothing to eat.[2] After the liberation by the British Army she was first transferred to a nearby displaced persons camp. Her sister Renate, who could speak English, became an interpreter with the British Army.[1]

During the Belsen Trial which took place from September to November 1945 Anita testified against among others the camp commandant Josef Kramer, camp doctor Fritz Klein and deputy camp commandant Franz Hössler who were all sentenced to death and hanged that year.[4]


In 1946, Anita and Renate moved to Great Britain with the help of Marianne.[1][2] She married Peter Wallfisch and is mother to two children,[2] a son, cellist Raphael Wallfisch, and a daughter Maya Jacobs-Wallfisch, a psychotherapist. Wallfisch cofounded the English Chamber Orchestra (ECO),[5] performing as both a member and as a solo artist, and toured internationally. Her grandson is composer Benjamin Wallfisch.

After nearly 50 years away from Germany, she finally returned there on tour with the ECO in 1994. Since that time, and as a witness and victim of the Nazi period, she has visited German and Austrian schools to talk about and explain her experiences.[6] On this note, she promotes the work for the New Kreisau, in Poland, as well as the work of the Freya von Moltke Foundation and the Kreisau Circles legacy.[7] In 1996 she published her memoir Inherit the Truth.[8]

Over the years, she has told her life-story in numerous oral history interviews, for example in the Shoah Foundation's Visual History Archive (1998) and the online archive Forced Labor 1939–1945 (2006).[9] She was interviewed by National Life Stories (C410/186) in 2000 for 'The Living Memory of the Jewish Community' collection held by the British Library.[10]

In 2011, she received an Honorary degree as Doctor of Divinity from Cambridge University.[5]

In 2018, she gave a commemorative speech in the Bundestag to mark the 73rd anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.[3]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Stephen Moss (13 January 2005). "Anita Lasker Wallfisch profile". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 May 2007.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Anita Lasker-Wallfisch (2003). "Testimony from "Survival: Holocaust Survivors Tell Their Story"" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 21 July 2011. Retrieved 11 January 2010.
  3. ^ a b "Deutscher Bundestag, Remembering the victims of National Socialism with Anita Lasker-Wallfisch"], 31 January 2018; retrieved 5 February 2018.
  4. ^ a b c Law reports of trials of war criminals, selected and prepared by the United Nations War Crimes Commission – Volume II, The Belsen Trial (PDF). London, UK: United Nations War Crimes Commission. 1947. p. 21f. Retrieved 16 July 2019. Anita Lasker, who lived in Breslau before her arrest, was sent to Auschwitz in December, 1943. She was transferred to Belsen in November, 1944. She claimed that she saw Kramer, Hoessler and Dr. Klein take part in selections for the gas chamber.
  5. ^ a b "Honorary degrees: Cambridge University". 2011. Retrieved 21 March 2013.
  6. ^ Interview, Radio Frec broadcast 19 January 2009; accessed 22 November 2014.
  7. ^ Profile Archived 7 October 2014 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ Lasker-Wallfisch, Anita (1996). Inherit the truth, 1939–1945: The documented experiences of a survivor of Auschwitz and Belsen. London, UK: Giles de la Mare. p. 168. ISBN 9781900357012.
  9. ^ Interview Archive "Forced Labor 1939–1945. Memory and History", za072; retrieved 5 February 2018.
  10. ^ National Life Stories, 'Lasker-Wallfisch (1 of 11) National Life Stories Collection: 'The Living Memory of the Jewish Community', The British Library Board, 2000; retrieved 7 October 2017.