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The Violinist of Auschwitz (Hardback)

WWII P&S History Prisoners Of War

By Jean-Jacques Felstein
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 208
Illustrations: 32 black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781399002813
Published: 30th November 2021

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Arrested in 1943 and deported to Auschwitz, Elsa survived because she had the 'opportunity' to join the women's orchestra. But Elsa kept her story a secret, even from her own family. Indeed, her son would only discover what had happened to his mother many years later, after gradually unearthing her unbelievable story following her premature death, without ever having revealed her secret to anyone.

Jean-Jacques Felstein was determined to reconstruct Elsa's life in Birkenau, and would go in search of other orchestra survivors in Germany, Belgium, Poland, Israel and the United States. The recollections of Hélène, first violin, Violette, third violin, Anita, a cellist, and other musicians, allowed him to rediscover his 20-year-old mother, lost in the heart of hell.

The story unfolds in two intersecting stages: one, contemporary, is that of the investigation, the other is that of Auschwitz and its unimaginable daily life, as told by the musicians. They describe the recitals on which their very survival depended, the incessant rehearsals, the departure in the mornings for the forced labourers to the rhythm of the instruments, the Sunday concerts, and how Mengele pointed out the pieces in the repertoire he wished to listen to in between 'selections'.

In this remarkable book, Jean-Jacques Felstein follows in his mother's footsteps and by telling her story, attempts to free her, and himself, from the pain that had been hidden in their family for so long.

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About Jean-Jacques Felstein

Jean-Jacques Felstein was born in 1948 and began his studies at Nanterre in 1968. He achieved a diploma in specialist education in 1976, followed by a degree in English and a diploma in languages and communication sciences.


He worked in education for twenty-three years, before becoming the department head in a child protection unit at the Seine-Saint-Denis General Council. Here he acquired expert knowledge on concepts such as heritage, parentage, abuse and incest.


During these years, he practised music and played guitar in a hard rock group, performing in numerous concerts.


He died in Paris in 2015, following a long illness.

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