Women's Orchestra of Auschwitz

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Auschwitz Women's Orchestra
Mädchenorchester von Auschwitz
TypePrison orchestra
Coordinates50°02′09″N 19°10′42″E / 50.03583°N 19.17833°E / 50.03583; 19.17833Coordinates: 50°02′09″N 19°10′42″E / 50.03583°N 19.17833°E / 50.03583; 19.17833
PeriodApril 1943 – October 1944
Notable players

The Women's Orchestra of Auschwitz (Mädchenorchester von Auschwitz; lit. "Girls' Orchestra of Auschwitz") was formed by order of the SS in 1943, during the Holocaust, in the Auschwitz II-Birkenau extermination camp in German-occupied Poland.[1][2] Active for 19 months—from April 1943 until October 1944—the orchestra consisted of mostly young female Jewish and Slavic prisoners, of varying nationalities, who would rehearse for up to ten hours a day to play music regarded as helpful in the daily running of the camp. They also held a concert every Sunday for the SS.[3]

A member of the orchestra, Fania Fénelon, published her experiences as an autobiography, Sursis pour l'orchestre (1976),[4] which appeared in English as Playing for Time (1977).[5] The book was the basis of a television film of the same name in 1980, written by Arthur Miller.


The orchestra was formed in April 1943 by SS-Oberaufseherin Maria Mandl, supervisor of the women's camp in Auschwitz, and SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer Franz Hössler, the women's camp commandant.[6] The Germans wanted a propaganda tool for visitors and camp newsreels and a tool to boost camp morale. Led at first by a Polish music teacher, Zofia Czajkowska, the orchestra remained small until Jews were admitted in May 1943. Its members came from many countries, including Austria, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Poland, the Netherlands and USSR.[7][8]

Esther Béjarano, pianist, accordion player, singer[11]

According to professor of music Susan Eischeid, the orchestra had 20 members by June 1943; by 1944 it had 42–47 players and 3–4 musical copyists.[8] Its primary role was to play (often for hours on end in all weather conditions) at the gate of the women's camp when the work gangs left and returned. They might also play during "selection" and in the infirmary.[a]

In the early months, the ensemble consisted mainly of amateur musicians, with a string section, accordions and a mandolin; it lacked a bass section. The orchestra acquired its limited instruments and sheet music from the men's orchestra of the main Auschwitz camp.[citation needed] The repertoire of the orchestra was fairly limited, in terms of the available sheet music, the knowledge of the conductor and the wishes of the SS. It played mostly German marching songs, as well as the Polish folk and military songs that Czajkowska knew by heart. It included two professional musicians, cellist Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, and vocalist/pianist Fania Fénelon, each of whom wrote memoirs of their time in the orchestra. Wallfisch, for example, recollected being told to play Schumann's Träumerei for Josef Mengele.[citation needed]


The first conductor, Zofia Czajkowska, a Polish music teacher, was active from April 1943 until she was replaced by Alma Rosé, an Austrian-Jewish violinist, in August that year.[12] The daughter of Arnold Rosé, leader of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, and niece of Gustav Mahler,[12] Rosé had been the conductor of the Wiener Walzermädeln, a small orchestra in Vienna, and had arrived in Auschwitz from the Drancy internment camp in Paris.[13]

By January 1944, the orchestra had 47 members, including five singers. Rosé died suddenly on 5 April 1944, possibly from food poisoning, after having dinner with a kapo (an inmate with special privileges).[12][14] The third conductor was Sonia Winogradowa, a Ukrainian pianist.[15][12] For several reasons, including reduced rehearsal time and Winogradowa's lack of experience, the orchestra's performance declined. It stopped performing in October 1944.[12]

Move to Bergen-Belsen[edit]

On 1 November 1944, the Jewish members of the women's orchestra were evacuated by cattle car to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany, where there was neither orchestra nor special privileges.[16] Three members, Charlotte "Lola" Croner, Julie Stroumsa and Else, were murdered there.[17] On 18 January 1945, non-Jewish women in the orchestra, including several Poles, were evacuated to Ravensbrück concentration camp.[16] Fénelon was interviewed by the BBC on 15 April 1945, the day of Bergen-Belsen's liberation by British troops, and sang "La Marseillaise" and "God Save the King".[18]


The best known publication about the orchestra is Fania Fénelon's memoir, Playing for Time (1977),[5] first published in Paris as Sursis pour l'orchestre (1976).[4] The memoir and subsequent TV adaptation assumed an important place in Holocaust scholarship. This was a source of frustration to other survivors of the orchestra, who disagreed with Fénelon's representation of the orchestra, particularly her portrayal of Alma Rosé and several other musicians, and the diminishment by Fénelon of their bond and support for one another.[19] Fénelon presents Rosé as a cruel disciplinarian and self-hating Jew who admired the Nazis and courted their favor. A biography, Alma Rosé: From Vienna to Auschwitz (2000), by Rosé family friend Richard Newman and Karen Kirtley, presents a different picture.[13]

List of members[edit]

Listed alphabetically by birth name or by first name where no surname is known.



  • Margot Anzenbacher (later Větrovcová), guitar, Czech[24]
  • Lilly Assael, Jewish, Greek[25]
  • Yvette Assael (later Lennon), Greek[26]
  • Stefania Baruch, music teacher, played guitar and mandolin[27]
  • Esther Lowey Béjarano (Sarah Weiss), pianist, singer, accordion[11]
  • Zofia Cykowiak (Zocha Nowak), Polish[28]
  • Henryka Czapla, Polish[29]
  • Helena Dunicz-Niwińska (Halina Opielka),[30] violin, Polish, Nr. 64118, author of One of the Girls in the Band: The Memoirs of a Violinist from Birkenau (2014)[31]
  • Fania Fénelon,[32] piano and voice, French, Nr. 74862 author of Sursis pour l'orchestre (1976).[33][34]
  • Henryka Gałązka, violin, Polish[29]
  • Marta Goldstein[35]
  • Hilde Grünbaum[36]
  • Danuta Kollakowa, drums, piano, Polish[37]
  • Fanny Kornblum (later Birkenwald)[38][39]
  • Marie Kroner (murdered in Auschwitz)[17]
  • Regina Kupferberg (later Rivka Bacia), Jewish[40][41]
  • Irena Łagowska, Polish[42]
  • Maria Langenfeld, Polish[43]
  • Anita Lasker-Wallfisch (Marta Goldstein), cello, Jewish[9]
  • Lotta Lebedová, Jewish from Bohemia.[15]
  • Kazimiera Małys[44]
  • Lilli Máthé[35]
  • Elsa Miller (later Felstein), violin, Belgian, Jewish[42]
  • Claire Monis, French (fr)[45]
  • Maria Moś-Wdowik, Polish[46]
  • Hélène Rounder-Diatkin (fr)[47]
  • Hélène Scheps (Irène Szal)[48]
  • Helga Schiessel, piano, Jewish, German[49]
  • Ruth Schiessel, Jewish, German[17]
  • Flora Schrijver-Jacobs[35][50][51]
  • Violette Jacquet Silberstein (Florette Fenet)[47][52] violin,[21] violin, Jewish, born in Romania[52]
  • Helen Spitzer Tichauer[53]
  • Eva Steiner (Ewa Stern), Transylvania [present-day Romania], Jewish, singer [48]
  • Madam Steiner, mother of Eva, Transylvania [present-day Romania], Jewish, violinist
  • Ewa Stojowska, Polish[54]
  • Ioulia "Julie" Stroumsa, Jewish, Greek (murdered in Bergen-Belsen)[29]
  • Szura, guitar, Ukraine[42]
  • Carla Wagenberg, Tamar Berger, Jewish, German, sister of Sylvia Wagenberg[55]
  • Sylvia Wagenberg, Jewish, German[36][55]
  • Irena Walaszczyk[56]
  • Jadwiga Zatorska, violin, Polish[28]
  • Rachela Zelmanowicz-Olewski, mandolin, Jewish, Poland[42]


  1. ^ Music and the Holocaust (website): "In June 1943 the orchestra began their primary assignment of playing at the camp gate for the arrival and departure of the female work commandos. The musicians had to arrive at their positions at the entrance of camp early, in order to set up, and stayed late. They were also not freed from normal work assignments, nor were they released from musical duty in rain or bad weather. As they had a very small number of pieces which they were equipped to play, they would simply repeat them over and over as the rows of women prisoners marched by, sometimes playing for several hours. They also played for sick prisoners in the infirmary, and were sometimes assigned to play when new transports arrived, or during selections."[7]


  1. ^ Knapp, Gabriele (1996). Das Frauenorchester in Auschwitz: Musikalische Zwangsarbeit und ihre Bewältigung. Hamburg: Von Bockel. ISBN 9783928770712.
  2. ^ Eischeid, Susan (2016). The Truth about Fania Fénelon and the Women's Orchestra of Auschwitz-Birkenau. London: Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 5–6. ISBN 978-3-319-31037-4.
  3. ^ Porter, Cecelia H. (Winter 1999). "Das Frauenorchester in Auschwitz: Musikalische Zwangsarbeit und ihre Bewältigung Gabriele Knapp". Holocaust and Genocide Studies. 13 (3): (467–469), 467. doi:10.1093/hgs/13.3.467.
  4. ^ a b Fenelon, Fania (1976). Sursis pour l'orchestre. Paris: Stock. OCLC 480429240.
  5. ^ a b Fénelon, Fania, with Marcelle Routier (1997). Playing for Time. New York: Syracuse University Press. ISBN 0-8156-0494-7. First published in English as Fenelon, Fania; Routier, Marcelle (1977). Playing for Time. New York: Berkley Books. ISBN 9780425067567.
  6. ^ Eischeid 2016, p. 5.
  7. ^ a b c "Zofia Czajkowska". Music and the Holocaust. Archived from the original on 11 May 2019.
  8. ^ a b Eischeid 2016, p. 6.
  9. ^ a b Eischeid 2016, p. ix.
  10. ^ Moss, Stephen (13 January 2005). "Anita Lasker Wallfisch". The Guardian.
  11. ^ a b Eischeid 2016, p. 128.
  12. ^ a b c d e f Porter 1999, p. 468.
  13. ^ a b Lebrecht, Norman (5 April 2000). "The true humanity of Alma Rosé". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 12 May 2016.
  14. ^ a b Eischeid 2016, p. 8.
  15. ^ a b c Knapp 1996, p. 75.
  16. ^ a b Lagerwey, Mary Deane (1998). Reading Auschwitz. Altamira Press, p. 28. ISBN 0-7619-9187-5
  17. ^ a b c Knapp 1996, p. 150.
  18. ^ Anderson, Susan Heller (7 January 1978). "Memories of a Nazi Camp, Where a Musical Gift Meant Survival". The New York Times.
  19. ^ Eischeid 2016, p. 3.
  20. ^ Knapp 1996, pp. 68, 89, 100; Eischeid 2016, p. 7.
  21. ^ a b Eischeid 2016, p. 7.
  22. ^ Knapp 1996, p. 71.
  23. ^ "Alma Rosé". Music and the Holocaust. Archived from the original on 11 May 2019.
  24. ^ Eischeid 2016, p. 93.
  25. ^ Knapp 1996, p. 69.
  26. ^ Eischeid 2016, p. 120.
  27. ^ Knapp 1996, pp. 67, 89, 90, 100.
  28. ^ a b Knapp 1996, pp. 68, 104.
  29. ^ a b c Knapp 1996, pp. 68, 150.
  30. ^ Eischeid 2016, p. 9.
  31. ^ "Bookstore". Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum.
  32. ^ Eischeid 2016, p. 2.
  33. ^ Anderson, Susan Heller (7 January 1978). "Memories of a Nazi Camp, Where a Musical Gift Meant Survival". The New York Times.
  34. ^ "Fania Fénelon". Music and the Holocaust. Archived from the original on 19 June 2019.
  35. ^ a b c Knapp 1996, p. 106.
  36. ^ a b Knapp 1996, p. 100.
  37. ^ Knapp 1996, pp. 69, 100.
  38. ^ Eischeid 2016, p. 137.
  39. ^ "Fanny Kornblum". Holocaust Survivors and Victims Database, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
  40. ^ Knapp 1996, pp. 75, 167.
  41. ^ Eischeid 2016, pp. 19, 94, 118.
  42. ^ a b c d Knapp 1996, p. 68.
  43. ^ Knapp 1996, pp. 68, 89, 104.
  44. ^ Knapp 1996, p. 104.
  45. ^ Eischeid 2016, p. 35.
  46. ^ Eischeid 2016, p. 101.
  47. ^ a b Eischeid 2016, p. 58.
  48. ^ a b Eischeid 2016, p. 19.
  49. ^ Knapp 1996, pp. 75, 150.
  50. ^ de Waard, Peter (24 April 2013). "Het accordeonmeisje dat Auschwitz overleefde". de Volkskrant.
  51. ^ Funnekotter, Bart (4 May 2012). "Concentratiekamp overleefd dankzij accordeon". nrc.nl.
  52. ^ a b Herzberg, Nathaniel (14 October 2016). "Violette Jacquet-Silberstein (1925–2014), sept décennies de bonheur après Auschwitz". Le Monde.
  53. ^ Eischeid 2016, pp. 18–19.
  54. ^ Knapp 1996, pp. 75, 168.
  55. ^ a b Grossert, Werner (2005). Carla und Sylvia Wagenberg: zwei Dessauer jüdische Mädchen im "Mädchenorchester" des Vernichtungslagers Auschwitz-Birkenau; eine Dokumentation. Dessau-Roßlau: Funk-Verlag. OCLC 609936332.
  56. ^ Knapp 1996, p. 89.

Further reading[edit]

External links


  • Linda Yellen (1980). Playing for Time. Television film based on Arthur Miller's stage adaptation.
  • Christel Priemer (1992). Esther Bejarano and the girl orchestra of Auschwitz.
  • Michel Daeron (2000). Bach in Auschwitz.


  • Fania Fénelon and Marcelle Routier. Playing for Time. Translated from the French by Judith Landry. Atheneum New York 1977. ISBN 0-689-10796-X.
  • Fania Fénelon and Marcelle Routier. Sursis pour l'orchestre. Témoignage recueilli par Marcelle Routier. Co-édition Stock/Opera Mundi. Paris 1976. ISBN 0-689-10796-X.
  • Esther Bejarano and Birgit Gärtner. Wir leben trotzdem. Esther Bejarano--vom Mädchenorchester in Auschwitz zur Künstlerin für den Frieden. Herausgegeben vom Auschwitz-Komitee in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland [We Live Nevertheless] e.V. Pahl-Rugenstein Verlag Bonn, 2007. ISBN 3-89144-353-6
  • Esther Bejarano, Man nannte mich Krümel. Eine jüdische Jugend in den Zeiten der Verfolgung. Herausgegeben vom Auschwitz-Komitee in der Bundesrepublik e.V. Curio-Verlag Hamburg 1989. ISBN 3-926534-82-6
  • Richard Newman and Karen Kirtley, Alma Rosé. Vienna to Auschwitz. Amadeus Press Portland Oregon 2000. ISBN 1-57467-051-4
  • Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, Inherit the Truth. A Memoir of Survival and the Holocaust. St. Martin's Press New York 2000. ISBN 0-312-20897-9
  • Gabriele Knapp, Das Frauenorchester in Auschwitz. Musikalische Zwangsarbeit und ihre Bewältigung. von Bockel Verlag Hamburg 1996. ISBN 3-928770-71-3
  • Violette Jacquet-Silberstein and Yves Pinguilly, Les sanglots longs des violons... Avoir dix-huit ans à Auschwitz. Publié par les éditions Oskarson (Oskar jeunesse) Paris 2007. Previously published with the title Les sanglots longs des violons de la mort. ISBN 978-2-35000-162-3
  • Jacques Stroumsa. Violinist in Auschwitz. From Salonica to Jerusalem 1913-1967. Translated from German by James Stewart Brice. Edited by Erhard Roy Wiehn. Hartung-Gorre Verlag. Konstanz (mentions Julie Stroumsa)
  • Mirjam Verheijen. Het meisje met de accordion: de overleving van Flora Schrijver in Auschwitz-Birkenau en Bergen-Belsen. Uitgeverij Scheffers Utrecht 1994. ISBN 90-5546-011-7
  • Rachela Zelmanowicz Olewski. Crying is Forbidden Here! A Jewish Girl in pre-WWII Poland, The Women's Orchestra in Auschwitz and Liberation in Bergen-Belsen. Edited by Arie Olewski and his sister Jochevet Ritz-Olewski. Based on her Hebrew testimony, recorded by Yad-Vashem on 21 May 1984. Published at the Open University of Israel 2009. ISBN 978-965-91217-2-4
  • Jean-Jacques Felstein. Dans l'orchestre d'Auschwitz - Le secret de ma mère. Auzas Éditions Imago Paris 2010. ISBN 978-2-84952-094-9
  • Bruno Giner. Survivre et mourir en musique dans les camps nazis. Éditions Berg International 2011. ISBN 978-2-917191-39-2