We were delighted to learn that Holocaust survivor Anita Lasker-Wallfisch has been awarded an MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours. 

Anita Lasker-Wallfisch was born in Breslau which was then part of Germany and is now Wrocław in Poland. She was part of an assimilated Jewish family and lived with her parents and two sisters. All three children played an instrument from a young age. Anita played the cello.

By the time Anita was 12 years old it had become impossible for her to continue to have cello lessons in Breslau. Her parents were able to arrange for her to go to Berlin where she had private tuition in school subjects and continue her cello lessons with the only remaining Jewish cello teacher in the city. However, this ended soon after Kristallnacht when Anita left Berlin to return to her family in Breslau.

Following Kristallnacht, Anita’s family, as with many other Jewish families, decided it was no longer safe to stay in Germany. However, it was incredibly difficult to emigrate and the family were not able to leave. Anita was re-enrolled at a school in Breslau and by this time Jewish students could only attend Jewish schools. It was not long before the Jewish school was closed down and Anita was conscripted to work in a paper factory. Around this time, Anita’s family were also forced to leave their home and move in with Anita’s aunt.

On 9th April 1942, Anita’s parents were deported to Izbica near Lublin. Anita and her sisters had wanted to go with them but their father refused. Anita learnt after the war that they had been killed on arrival. Anita continued to work in the paper factory and became involved in clandestine activities, mainly forging paperwork for French prisoners of war, who were also forced to work at the factory. As Jewish workers were not allowed to make contact with the PoWs, Anita used to pass the forged papers through a hole in the bathroom wall. One day the hole was sealed and she realised that Nazis had been watching her. Anita forged some papers for herself and attempted to escape but as she had been under Gestapo surveillance for some time she was quickly caught and arrested and imprisoned for forgery, helping the enemy and attempted escape.

After a year in prison, Anita was sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau. However, because of her record as a criminal she did not have to take part in the Selektion on arrival. She credits her survival at Auschwitz to the fact that she was able to join the camp orchestra. The prisoners who were part of the orchestra played by the gates of the camp as the other prisoners left for work in the morning and arrived back in the evening. The music was intended to keep their marching in time. The orchestra was also expected to be on call to play whenever a member of the SS wanted to hear music.

From Auschwitz, Anita was sent to Bergen-Belsen. On 15th April 1945, Belsen was liberated by British troops. After serving as an interpreter for the British army, she settled in the UK in 1946 where she achieved fame as co-founder and member of the English Chamber Orchestra. Anita married the musician Peter Wallfisch, a childhood friend who had fled Germany in the 1930s, in 1952.

You can read more biographies of Holocaust survivors here.