Rose, Alma

Alma Rose : Vienna to Auschwitz
by Richard Newman, Karen Kirtley (Contributor)
Hardcover - 424 pages (May 2000)
Amadeus Pr; ISBN: 1574670514 ; Dimensions (in inches): 1.43 x 9.36 x 6.46

Editorial Reviews
                           Part family biography, part European and Holocaust history, this book traces the life of violinist Alma Rosé, along with
                           that of other members of her illustrious musical family, from her birth in 1906 in one of the world's foremost cultural
                           capitals to her death in a Nazi extermination camp in 1944. It will be particularly fascinating and wrenching to anyone
                           with similar roots. Alma was the niece of the famous composer and conductor Gustav Mahler, at the time director of the
                           Vienna Opera, and the daughter of Arnold Rosé, concertmaster of the Opera Orchestra and the Vienna Philharmonic and
                           leader of his own renowned string quartet. Her older brother Alfred became a noted pianist, conductor, composer, and
                           teacher. Alma, named after her aunt and godmother, Alma Mahler, was taught by her father and, both inspired and
                           intimidated by the family's musical tradition, she became a fairly successful violinist.

                           In 1930, she established a girls' orchestra called the Viennese Waltz-Girls, with which she toured throughout Europe as
                           conductor and soloist, and which surprisingly had her austere father's blessing because of the high quality of the playing.
                           Her marriage to the famous, dashing Czech violin virtuoso Vása Príhoda soon ended in heartbreak and divorce. Disaster
                           struck in 1938, when Hitler annexed Austria, whose population welcomed him enthusiastically; the country's always
                           latent anti-Semitism erupted swiftly and violently. Though the Rosé family were completely assimilated and had even
                           converted to Christianity, Arnold immediately lost his orchestra position and pension. His wife was ill and died that year,
                           leaving him stranded financially and emotionally. Alfred and his wife managed to flee to Holland, England, and
                           eventually Canada, where he died in 1975; Alma mistakenly thought she was protected by the Czech passport gained
                           through her marriage. With dauntless determination, and with the help of old friends, including the famous violinist Carl
                           Flesch, she got her father and herself to England only months before the outbreak of World War II. The Rosé Quartet's
                           cellist and former principal of the Vienna Philharmonic, Friedrich Buxbaum, had arrived there earlier; he later joined the
                           re-formed quartet.

                           So far, Alma's story parallels my own. Born in Vienna 20 years later to musical parents who encouraged my violin
                           studies, I grew up near enough the Rosé house to encounter the illustrious concertmaster not only on stage but on the
                           streetcar. We witnessed Hitler's triumphant arrival, but our Czech passports enabled us to escape to Czechoslovakia.
                           When Hitler caught up with us in 1939, we, too, managed with the help of friends to get to England just before the war.
                           A few years later, I was thrilled to be the violinist in a trio with the venerable Buxbaum, who still played with the facility
                           and tone of a man half his age. Here the resemblance ends. While we survived the war in England and ultimately came to
                           America, Alma was tempted by performing opportunities to leave the comparative security of England for Holland, where
                           her career flourished and she earned enough money to help her father.

                           She was still fulfilling engagements when the Germans overran Belgium and the Netherlands; her efforts to get back to
                           England, or join her brother in America, failed. Staying with friends, she was almost picked up by the Nazis despite a
                           hastily arranged marriage to an "Aryan" Dutchman, and in 1942 she went into hiding, tried to get into Switzerland, but
                           was betrayed, arrested, and deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau.

                           From here on, the story takes on a surreal character. Shortly after her arrival at what has been called "a wound in the
                           order of being," it was discovered that Alma was a violinist, and, in a grotesque replay of her past, she was asked to take
                           over a poor, threadbare musical ensemble of women inmates. By sheer courage, fortitude, and determination, she turned
                           this motley group into a viable orchestra, training and coaching the players; arranging music for its ill-matched
                           instrumental makeup, from mandolins to sopranos; and driving herself and her musicians to exhaustion. Gaining
                           unprecedented stature and exploiting some of the most brutal camp functionaries' love of music, she saved her musicians
                           from the gas chambers and also obtained some favors and privileges for them. Forty years later, one of them said that
                           there is not a day when she does not remember Alma and thank her. Alma herself succumbed to an undiagnosed illness,
                           which deepened the mystery surrounding her.

                           Author Richard Newman made friends with Alfred Rosé and his wife in Canada in 1946. The impetus for writing this
                           book was the publication of a memoir called Playing for Time by Fania Fénelon, a singer with Alma's orchestra, which
                           gives a very harsh portrayal of her. Newman's search for the "real" Alma lasted 22 years and took him around the world.
                           His sources are family letters, interviews, and correspondence with family, friends, and surviving members of the
                           orchestra, lending the book an overwhelming immediacy and authenticity. Included are Mahler and Rosé family trees,
                           many pages of photographs, a map of Auschwitz-Birkenau, and a list of the orchestra players. The section dealing with
                           camp life (and death) is written in an unemotional, reportorial style full of facts and figures. That approach may have
                           saved Newman's own sanity, and, by its incongruity with the grisly content, it both blunts and heightens the impact of the
                           indescribable, unimaginable details it recounts. This is a book to numb the mind and sear the soul. --Edith Eisler

                            Reviewer: Farin Schlussel (see more about me) from New York

                           I read this book on recommendation after I read Martin Goldsmith's The Inextinguishable Symphony. This book is an
                           extremely compelling story about the fascinating and tragic life of Alma Rosé, a Viennese violinist with a heavy music
                           pedigree (she was the niece of venerated composer Gustav Mahler and the daughter of violinist Arnold Rosé) who, in
                           spite of her efforts to get out and then to stay alive by leading the women's orchestra in Birkenau, meets her demise in the
                           revier hospital. The story made me gasp and I had to read several paragraphs over again so that I could digest what I was
                           reading. The only problem that I had with this book was that events seemed very out of order throughout. Little stories
                           were stuck in here and there that interrupted the flow of the story. What also surprised me and made me a little angry at
                           the same time was that there were so many events in Alma's life that can't be definitely corroborated, including her
                           behavior as the conductor of the women's orchestra at Birkenau and her death.

                                        A moving and articulate testament to a most remarkable woman, January 10, 2001
                           Reviewer: Midwest Book Review (see more about me) from Oregon, WI USA
                           The niece of Gustav Mahler and the daughter of famed violinist Arnold Rose, Alma Maria Rose was born in Vienna,
                           studied at the Vienna Conservatory and the Vienna State Academy, and enjoyed a respectable musical career. In 1932
                           Alma formed the first women's orchestra in the country (known as the Vienna Waltzing Girls) and toured throughout
                           Europe. With the rise of Nazism Alma, a Jew, was deported to the infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. It
                           was at Auschwitz that Alma's musical heritage came to bear as never before. She took a group of terrified (and often very
                           untrained) women and transformed them into the only female musical ensemble in the Nazi death camps. Their ability to
                           make music saved them from being gassed by the Nazi captors. Some 40 women survived the death camps because of
                           their participation -- but not Alma. She died of an illness in the camps before they were liberated by the Allies. Alma
                           Rose: Vienna To Auschwitz is a very moving and articulate testament to a most remarkable woman. It is a superbly
                           written and highly recommended addition to any college, university, or community library biography, Holocaust studies,
                           women studies, or music history reading list or collection.

                                       An extraordinary book!, May 20, 2000
                           Reviewer: Russel E. Higgins (see more about me) from Ridgewood, N.J.
                           "Alma Rosé: Vienna to Auschwitz" is a poignant and beautifully related account of one the most extraordinary women
                           who ever lived. Alma Rosé, the daughter of the most renowned violinist of Vienna who was concertmaster of the Vienna
                           Philharmonic and the first violinist of perhaps the finest string quartet in the world, was also the niece of Gustav Mahler.
                           She became a fine violinist and musician in her own right, taking musical Vienna by storm, and creating a famous and
                           successful women's orchestra which toured throughout Europe. Soon after the Nazi takeover in Austria, the Jewish
                           family left for England where Alma continued to give concerts, playing even in her father's illustrious quartet. But she
                           also took the risk of concertizing in Holland. She was trapped by the sudden Nazi blitzkrieg and takeover of Holland,
                           tried to escape, was betrayed and caught by the Nazis, and sent to Auschwitz-Birkenwald. It was at Auschwitz that Alma's
                           extraordinary life takes on new dimensions: within the death camp, she creates and directs a women's orchestra
                           composed not only of traditional symphonic instruments, but also of guitars, mandolins, accordions, and recorders,
                           playing arrangements made and copied by women inmates of Auschwitz. Because of Alma's work at Auschwitz,
                           hundreds of women were saved from the Nazi gas chambers; in fact, many survivors contributed to the book through
                           interviews with the author. This story has been told before, but never as well as Richard Newman and Karen Kirtley
                           relates it. Mr. Newman took twenty-two years of painstaking work of research and interviewing before completing the
                           book. In the Editor's Note, Ms. Kirtley points out Mr. Newman's "phenomenal achievement" of talking with "more than
                           one hundred people able to provide firsthand information about Alma Rosé." The book is carefully researched with
                           abundant documentation, a massive bibliography, and appendices which contain lists of every woman who played in the
                           Auschwitz-Birkenau orchestra, a background of the Mahler-Rosé family, a list of every interview that was conducted, and
                           a "camp glossary" of terms used at Auschwitz-Birkenau. The authors delve deeply into Vienna's history, culture, and
                           society, which produced the strong anti-Semitic feelings, and, ultimately, the welcoming of Nazi troops into the city. A
                           short review, of course, cannot do justice to the scope and dimension of this marvelous book; it is a work that every
                           student of music and European history should read. However, the book will also appeal to readers without a background
                           in modern European history, for the book is written clearly and with firm structure and form. Richard Newman and
                           Karen Kirley have provided the reader with a remarkable book about an exceptional woman --- a poignant reminder of
                           the anguish and tragedy of Nazi Germany and Austria, but also about the courage and humanity that existed in some
                           people. This is an extraordinary book.