Stephen Fry & Anita Lasker Wallfisch
German-born cellist Anita Lasker Wallfisch was 14 at the outbreak of war. In 1942, her parents were taken away and, it is believed, murdered near Lublin, Poland.
A year later, she and her sister Renate were sent to Auschwitz. She survived nearly a year at Auschwitz because she was selected as a member of the camp orchestra.
The group also performed for individual SS staff and Anita was asked to play for the infamous Dr Josef Mengele. She and her sister were liberated by the British Army from Bergen-Belsen in 1945 and later moved to the UK, where she co-founded the English Chamber Orchestra.
Broadcaster and actor Stephen Fry presents Art, Music, Life, a written response to Anita’s experiences, exploring the idea of music and evil – and whether art can survive the worst of human atrocities.
Stephen says: “It’s hard, it’s grotesque and it’s almost unbelievable, but as witnesses to the imponderable brutality and evil of the Holocaust dwindle in number, so swell in number those who choose, for whatever reason to deny its existence. “Holocaust deniers are finding it easier and easier to wave a hand dismissively and claim that there’s no proof, that the numbers are wholly exaggerated, that it was all a myth.”
In an extract from Art, Music, Life, Stephen writes: “In the end, we can get lost in the history and lost in the search for meaning. That is why people like Anita matter so much. “I come from my meetings with Anita having learned three lessons. First that a lack of self-pity is amongst the finest and noblest of all human attributes. Anita does not want to repeat and relive the story of how she suffered and what suffering she witnessed. That, for her, is not any kind of answer. The answer is to remember not so much what happened as how it happened. The years of propaganda that led perfectly ordinary people to perform acts of perfectly extraordinary evil.”
“Second, she would add too I think, there are problems that arise from the pliable obedient nature of a people who do not question authority. It is more than a good thing to question authority, it is a necessary thing. How appalling an irony of history it is that the people who gave us [philosopher] Immanuel Kant should have turned its back on his enlightenment and dived into so dreadful a darkness. Third, if there are to be no more death-camps, gas chambers or machete genocides then we must keep our ears alert to the language of hatred, the mad language that allows pitiless killing, the language that dehumanises both the victim and the perpetrator. If that leans us towards a politically correct intolerance of racial, sexual or any other kind of abusive language, well then so be it.”
• Copyright Stephen Fry. Read Stephen Fry’s full piece at keepthememoryalive.hmd.org.uk