My Century Home Page
on Monday 9th August 1999
name is Anita Lasker-Walfisch. I was born in Germany. And in 1942,
when I was 17, I was sent to Auschwitz, which is a concentration
camp in Poland.I
am Jewish. And the theme of the Nazis was to eliminate the Jewish
remember I arrived at night. It was very cold - it was December.
Within a very short time, you were reduced to an absolute nobody
- starting with having your hair shaved, with a number tattooed
on your arm, and your clothes being taken away. So there you are:
stark naked, without hair, a number on your arm. You've lost all
sense of identity - or dignity, for that matter. The girl who was
processing me asked me: "Where do you come from, and what is the
news outside? What did you do before the War?" And I casually said
that I played the cello. I really thought it was rather a stupid
thing to say at the time. And she seemed extremely excited about
that, and said: "Oh, that is wonderful!" and told me to wait in
a corner. So I stood there waiting - I didn't know what I was waiting
for, really - and she went to fetch the conductor of the orchestra,
who was Alma Boset, the niece of Gustaz Mahler. And, instead of
being led to the gas chamber, I had a conversation about cello playing
and music. It was totally bewildering. Alma was a very disciplined
person. And she kept enormous discipline in the orchestra, which
at the time we thought was absolutely crazy - but, which, in retrospect,
was almost life-saving for us. Because we were so busy being frightened
of her and whether we played the right notes that we temporarily
put ourselves in another world. We didn't look out, if you understand
what I mean. If you looked out of the window, you saw the chimneys
and the smoke of burning people. And we, in an almost crazy way,
concentrated on playing music, the right notes.
had a job to do there. The job was to play marches, in the morning
and in the evening, for the commandos that marched out into the
factories. But the day, of course, came when we suddenly weren't
needed any more. Because the Russians advanced and Auschwitz was
being sort of cleaned up. The Jewish personnel in the orchestra
were asked to come out of the block. That's when we thought that
we would be sent to the gas chamber. But in fact they sent us to
Belsen. We travelled in this cattle-truck. We were terribly cold.
And there immediately started an atmosphere of helping each other.
We tried to keep each other warm. We started singing. Washing in
Belsen was a big problem. Because the washing possibilities were
outside. You can imagine what it was like in the winter. You were
already hungry. You were half-dead. But we knew that, the moment
you didn't wash every day, it was the beginning of the end. So we
used to wash each other and bully each other: "Come on".
saw so many dead people that we didn't even notice them, especially
in Belsen. Heaps and heaps of corpses stacked up. There was no way
of burying them, getting rid of them. People died so fast and in
such enormous quantities, we didn't even notice it. I think a way
of survival is also just to let the shutters down and not see things.
I mean, lots of people went mad, you know. How can you possibly
survive this? You must be terribly tough or insensitive to actually
survive. I think it's given me, certainly, a basic modesty of what
I actually expect from life. I don't have to have everything, if
you see what I mean. I have my life. And I actually have a family.
I've got grandchildren now. I mean, for God's sake, who would have
thought that fifty years ago?