US group re-creates Nazi death camp orchestra

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When Gustav Mahler's niece greeted new arrivals at a Nazi death camp, she knew that any woman who stepped off the train with a musical instrument had a chance to live. Women in Alma Rose's orchestra were forced to entertain SS officers at the Birkenau concentration camp. All the women survived — except Rose.

Now, an American chorus and orchestra is paying tribute to those musicians with concerts in the U.S. and Germany titled "Music in Desperate Times: Remembering The Women's Orchestra of Birkenau."

On Saturday, Ars Choralis will play at Manhattan's Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, whose Episcopal bishop had spoken against the persecution of Jews in Europe already in 1933.

During the 18 months the Birkenau orchestra existed, its musicians played pieces the German officers loved — Beethoven symphonies, Puccini arias, Chopin and Strauss waltzes. The women also had to play marches for emaciated, often sick prisoners as they struggled to walk to their forced labor jobs.

When the Vienna-born Rose (pronounced roh-ZAY') was sent to the camp, the SS guards realized she was Mahler's relative and had conducted an all-women's orchestra. She was asked to form one at Birkenau, for the pleasure of the Nazis.

With the orchestra, Rose saved more than 50 women, including Fenelon, who died in 1983; three are still alive.

Exactly what killed the great composer's niece remains a mystery. A document signed by Josef Mengele on April 4, 1944, shows that the Nazi SS physician who performed experiments on prisoners was summoned to a special private room where Rose lay, slipping in and out of consciousness from an undiagnosed illness. Mengele signed a form requesting medical tests for meningitis and pneumonia that came out negative.

Rose died the next day, her arms twisted in seizures. She was respectfully laid out atop a white cloth, with floral tributes sent by SS officers, according to Fenelon's book.

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Thaddeus Brodrick Noble - 4/6/2009

You mean to tell me that someone actually survived a German detention camp !! This is a monumental discovery !!

You do realize that will have to bring the total down to 5,999,999.

No more 6 million propaganda allowed now !!