Das Maedchen Orchester In Auschwitz


Gen-mus list June 2000


Thanks to William Meridith for his information about Newman's new book.  I

thought I would mention that there is a fourth book on the subject which is in



Gabriele Knapp, _Das Maedchen Orchester in Auschwitz_ (Hamburg: von Bockel



Written as her doctoral dissertation, the book is sober, cautious and

scientific.  The entire volume details the women's orchestra in Auschwitz.  She

interviewed seven members of the orchestra and drew from four other interviews

available in Israel.  These sources are almost the only foundation for

reconstructing the history of the orchestra.  The people she interviewed were

generally quite critical of Fenelon's (accent over first e) recounting of



Knapp has also published a biographical sketch of Alma Rose (accent over e) in

the last two issues of _VivaVoce_, the journal of the Internationale

Arbeitskreis Frau und Musik here in Germany.


William asked why these histories of the women's orchestras in Auschwitz have

been written, while none have been written about the men's.  One obvious but

important reason might be that men occupy almost the entirety of music and thus

have more pleasant histories to write about.  If women shared the same status

in music as men, they would probably also ignore Auschwitz.


What interests me is why there were orchestras in Auschwitz at all.  What

specifically did the SS see in these orchestras?  Some of the orchestra's

functions were obvious, but it seems there were more subtle motivations for

their creation that lead to very troubling thoughts.  


William Osborne




An:   Gender List, INTERNET:gen-mus@virginia.edu

Von: William Osborne, 100260,243

Datum: 24.05.00, 17:41

Empf:   More about Maedchen Orchester in Auschwitz



Thanks to Eva Rieger for her comments.  As we all know, Eva is one of the

world's most distinguished scholars of women in music so it is always nice to

hear from her.


In answer to the question of why orchestras were founded in the Nazi

concentration camps, Eva provides a brief summary of five of the seven points

made in Chapter 6 of Gabriele Knapp's book _Das Mädchen Orchester in

Auschwitz_, which is entitled "Funktionen befohlener Musik" ("Functions of the

Dictated Music".) 


To fully understand this chapter, it is important to know it addresses seven

official functions of the orchestra as understood by the perpetrators and their

victims.  These functions, however, were often grotesquely ridiculous, and do

not adequately explain the real motives for the orchestra's creation by the SS.


 Knapp notes, for example, that the orchestra played in the infirmary to drown

out the moans and sighs of the dying.  Of course, this was absurd. The SS had

more effective ways of keeping people quiet.  If a prisoner became burdensome

in even the smallest way, he or she was brutalized into silence or summarily



And if there had been a concern to prettify the death factories with such

things as orchestras, the SS would not have left huge mounds of naked corpses

around being nibbled on by rats, and there for most all to see. 


It is also open to question what musical effectiveness an ensemble could have

possibly had with its members in a soul-numbing state of terror, diseased and

starved to skeletal exhaustion.  Often the ensemble did not have any music,

used many amateurs, and played mostly German marches in unison by ear.  Knapp

notes that the SS often placed little value on musical quality.  [_VivaVoce_

(Nr. 51 December 1999) p. 6.]


It is thus important that we understand Knapp's intentions. The full title of

her dissertation is:


Musikalische Zwangsarbeit in Auschwitz: Bewältigungsversuche von Musikerinnen und die Bedeutung von Musik in ihrem Leben. 


[The Women's Orchestra In Auschwitz: The Attempts of the Musicians to Cope With the Past and the Meaning of Music In Their Lives.]  (The published title is

slightly different.)


The central focus of her book is to study the meaning music had in seven of the

victim's lives, especially during and after their ordeal.


"Bewältigungsversuche" has no English equivalent.  Roughly, it means "an

attempt to cope with the past," and that is how we have to read the interviews.

 They are personal attempts to cope with unspeakable trauma that can hardly be

situated in the context of reality.  To create an element of historical

factuality, Knapp meticulously cross-references their responses to create a

_Gesamtbild_, an overview of how the victims related to music during and after

their imprisonment.  In the process she also creates the best history of the

orchestra that exists. 


Neither the book nor the interviews, however, reveal much about the SS's

-actual- conscious and subconscious motivations for creating the orchestra. 

Opening that dark corridor might tell us more about music than we want to know.


William Osborne