Beyond Auschwitz: Mother and daughter discuss legacy of Holocaust at University memorial event

Anita Lasker-Wallfisch in the 1930s

Anita Lasker-Wallfisch

An acclaimed musician whose talent kept her alive in a Nazi death camp is the guest speaker at the University of Sussex Holocaust Memorial Day event on 30 January. 

Musician Anita Lasker-Wallfisch survived the horrors of Auschwitz, but her experiences were to have a profound effect on her family in later life.  

Anita was an accomplished young cellist when she was sent to Auschwitz. Her account of how she was recruited into the Auschwitz women’s orchestra and how music helped her to endure the horrors will form part of an afternoon of talks and discussions to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day at the University.  

Anita was just a teenager from a Jewish family in Breslau, Germany, when she was sent to Auschwitz with her sister in 1944, for trying to escape the country with forged papers. Anita says: “I could never accept that I should be killed for what I happened to be born as, and decided to give the Germans a better reason for killing me.” 

Anita expected to die in the gas chambers there, but while being shaved and tattooed by a fellow prisoner she was recruited into the orchestra under the direction of its conductor and fellow prisoner Alma Rosé (a niece of the composer Gustav Mahler). It was an association that kept Anita and her sister Renata alive. 

The orchestra played marches as the slave labourers in the camp went about their work and was expected to give concerts for the SS guards at the camp. 

Following transferral to the equally notorious holding camp at Belsen, the 19-year-old Anita was one of 50,000 sick and starving people liberated by British troops in 1945. On arriving in England in 1946 Anita began to rebuild her life and music career. She married and had a family, but did not return to her native Germany for 50 years. 

The experience of the Holocaust did not, however, destroy Anita’s love of music and she went on to become a world-renowned cellist, co-founding the English Chamber Orchestra. In an interview she said: “The Nazis destroyed many things, but not music.” 

The psychotherapist Maya Jacobs-Wallfisch, Anita’s daughter, will join her mother at the event to discuss the impact her mother’s traumatic experiences had on their family.  

A question and answer session, chaired by Dr Gideon Reuveni, Director of the Centre for German-Jewish Studies, will follow. 

Sir Andrew Burns, United Kingdom Envoy for Post-Holocaust Issues, will begin the afternoon`s programme with a talk entitled ‘The Holocaust 70 Years On’. He will attempt to answer the question of why the Holocaust still matters and ask what humanity may have learned from it. The following question and answer session will be chaired by Professor Matthew Cragoe, who is Head of the School of History, Art History and Philosophy at the University of Sussex. 

Open to all, the event is organised by the University's Centre for German-Jewish Studies and sponsored by the Association of Jewish Refugees. The event begins at 1.30pm in the Jubilee Building Lecture Theatre, University of Sussex.  

All are welcome but space is limited so anyone wishing to attend should RSVP online or book by calling either 01273 877488 or 01273 678375.

Notes for Editors 

An interview with Anita Lasker-Wallfisch and her son the cellist Raphael Wallfisch, published in the Guardian on Friday 10 January, can be read on the Guardian web site. 

National Holocaust Memorial Day falls every year on 27 January, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp, in 1945. Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) commemorates the tragic loss of life through genocide from the Holocaust to the present day. The theme for this year's commemoration is ‘Journeys’. 

For travel details and the Jubilee lecture theatre’s location on campus, see the University web site travel pages and the campus map (the Jubilee building is no 15 on the map). 

The Centre for German-Jewish Studies Established in 1994, the Centre has developed into a major institution for the study of the history, culture and thought of Jews in Central Europe and for the training of a new generation of teachers and researchers in this field. Its Holocaust Memorial Day is one of the major commemorations in the South-East. For further details, contact Centre Manager Diana Franklin.   

The Association for Jewish Refugees provides an extensive range of social and welfare services, and grants financial assistance to Jewish victims of Nazi persecution living in Great Britain. Founded in 1941, the AJR has extensive experience attending to the needs of Holocaust refugees and survivors who came to the UK before, during and after the Second World War. 

University of Sussex Press office contacts: Maggie Clune and Jacqui Bealing. Tel: 01273 678 888. Email: 

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Last updated: Tuesday, 28 January 2014