She played cello at Auschwitz, now she worries the Nazi spirit is back
Death camp survivor warns of Holocaust revival in Europe
A 92-year-old Holocaust survivor warned on Wednesday against rising anti-Semitism in Europe in the first ceremony marking the liberation of Auschwitz in the German parliament since the far right won seats last year.
Anita Lasker-Wallfisch is one of the last living members of the women’s orchestra at the Auschwitz death camp in occupied Poland.
In an unwavering voice, she told the rapt chamber that the Bundestag lower house, including deputies of the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, that hatred of Jews and Holocaust denial were staging a dangerous comeback.“Antisemitism is a 2,000-year-old virus that is apparently incurable,” she said.“Denying something that is part of Germany’s past is simply unacceptable.” Lasker-Wallfisch called it a “scandal” that Jewish schools and even creches required round-the-clock police protection.
“Hatred is simply a poison and in the end you poison yourself.” Lasker-Wallfisch was led into the chamber on the arm of German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier while Chancellor Angela Merkel helped her sister, Renate Lasker-Harpprecht, to her seat.
The AfD came in third in Germany’s general elections in September with nearly 13% of the vote, granting them more than 90 seats in the Bundestag.
Although it began as an anti-euro party, its rhetoric has veered right to primarily rail against immigration and Islam. Key AfD members have challenged Germany’s culture of atonement over World War 2 and the slaughter of six million Jews in the Holocaust — the bedrock of its post-war identity.In a 30-minute speech, Lasker-Wallfisch recounted her harrowing wartime experiences.
Born in 1925 into a Jewish family in what was then the German town of Breslau, today Wroclaw in Poland, Anita was sent to Auschwitz in 1943 while still a teenager. Her sister Renate was deported on a separate train. Already an accomplished cellist, she was able to join the camp’s orchestra for women and girls — a fact she said likely saved her life.The musicians were forced to play for slave labourers on their way to and from work each day, and for the SS guards.When the Nazis evacuated Auschwitz to flee the encroaching Red Army in October 1944, Lasker-Wallfisch was sent to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp where she endured hunger and rampant disease.
After the war she testified in trials of top Nazis who worked at Bergen-Belsen before she resettled in Britain.
She only returned in the mid-1990s to Germany, where she now frequently speaks about her experiences during the Holocaust to school classes.Austrian group's song praises gas chambersAustria may be notorious for its relative tolerance of neo-Nazi groups, but one nationalist fraternity has gone too far.
The Germania zu Wiener Neustadt organisation is to be forcibly disbanded after it emerged that its songbook includes the lyric: “Step on the gas, old Germanics, we can make it to seven million.’’Six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust during World War 2, many of them in gas chambers. Other songs in the book praise the Waffen SS and Nazi paratroopers behind war crimes committed in Greece.
The scandal has taken on a political dimension because until recently the vice-chairman of the fraternity was Udo Landbauer, a candidate for the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) in local elections in Lower Austria state last Sunday.
It also put Chancellor Sebastian Kurz under pressure since he had formed a coalition at federal level in December with the anti-immigration, Islamophobic FPOe, giving the party the interior, foreign and defence ministries.
Many members of the FPOe, a party created by former Nazis in the 1950s, are members of student fraternities, some of which are pan-German and engage in duels with swords and torch-lit processions.