The Violinst of Auschwitz

Ellie Midwood

Auschwitz, 1943: In the depths of hell, can hope rise? And can love triumph over hatred?

Based on the unforgettable true story of Alma Rosé, The Violinist of Auschwitz brings to life one of history’s most fearless, inspiring and courageous heroines. Alma’s bravery saved countless lives, bringing hope to those who had forgotten its meaning…

In Auschwitz, every day is a fight for survival. Alma is inmate 50381, the number tattooed on her skin in pale blue ink. She is cooped up with thousands of others, torn from loved ones, trapped in a maze of barbed wire. Every day people disappear, never to be seen again.

This tragic reality couldn’t be further from Alma’s previous life. An esteemed violinist, her performances left her audiences spellbound. But when the Nazis descend on Europe, none of that can save her…

When the head of the women’s camp appoints Alma as the conductor of the orchestra, performing for prisoners trudging to work as well as the highest-ranking Nazis, Alma refuses: “they can kill me but they won’t make me play”. Yet she soon realizes the power this position offers: she can provide starving girls with extra rations and save many from the clutches of death.

This is how Alma meets Miklos, a talented pianist. Surrounded by despair, they find happiness in joint rehearsals, secret notes, and concerts they give side by side––all the while praying that this will one day end. But in Auschwitz, the very air is tainted with loss, and tragedy is the only certainty… In such a hopeless place, can their love survive?

This devastatingly heartbreaking yet beautifully hopeful tale proves that even in the darkest of days, love can prevail––and give you something to live for. Fans of The Choice, The Tattooist of Auschwitz and The Orphan Train will lose their hearts to this magnificent tale.

I picked up this book this morning thinking I would read for half an hour before I dealt with life for the day. Next thing I know, Its seven hours later, I’ve got tears streaming down my face, the book is finished and I am wondering how I have gone thirty years without knowing who the incredible Alma Rose was and the astonishing impact she left on the world.

I feel like it sounds quite odd to say that WW2 is one of my favourite subjects to read about. I grew up loving history. Not the textbooks from which we were mostly taught at school, those names of political figures and events little more than a blur in my mind. But the history of living. Those raw, human stories that deserve to be remembered. Stories of ordinary people living through the most unfathomable trials. Our modern day minds not able to begin to comprehend.

I loved this book, but it was also one of the most uncomfortable reading experiences I have had in a long time. Really, I didn’t want to watch as these unthinkable events occured. There was still time to put the book down and convince myself that it was just a story. But I had to make myself watch, as Alma made herself watch.

“Things changed in the camp, and they didn’t. Time itself stood still.”

It never fails to shock and horrify me that this cruelty truly did occur. Most of the barbaric events in this book happened in one way or another. The date printed at the top of every chapter was a jarring reminder that these are not stories of ancient times, that shock us with their brutality yet comfort us by occuring in long gone years. Too long ago to be real. It has been only seventy five years since humanity looked like it did in this book. Most of us have family members older.

The stories of Auschwitz are so moving and inspiring. The tale of Alma Rose is one that will stay with me, that I will remember in times of distress and despair. I will be gateful in the knowledge that I will never experience a fraction of the pain these incredible people endured.

“And suddenly, the trembling sparrow in front of her had a name and a favourite composer. Alma couldn’t help but snort at the dirty trick with a certain measure of approval. Rejecting nameless women was a much easier task.”

The author does an incredible job of transporting you to the nightmarish camp. You can hear the last desperate pleas of the families herded in to the chambers, knowing the fate that awaits them and their children. You can feel the devastating ashes on your skin, knowing you will never truly be clean again. You can choke on the stench billiowing from the smoke from the chimneys, drowning your lungs.

But, you can also feel the profound gratitude when a violin defiantly plays the forbidden anthem of your nation as you are lead to your death. You can feel the determination to play this instrument well because your life actually depends on it, your fingers bleeding and your eyes streaming with tears. You can laugh in companionship at death and all the unspeakable horrors around you, because you have earned that right.

“Yes, they laughed about death; they laughed, fearlessly and insolently,”

Alma Rose was a hero and I am truly sorry that this was my first encounter with her. Immediately after finishing the book I searched for more information on her and was suprised at how accurate this story is. Alma truly saved many lives in her time in the camps. Putting the needs of those girls lucky enough to be in her orchestra before hers. Appeasing the men that she loathed so that those in her charge would survive and live to see a new world.

“They would play through this night. They would play, and they would survive, so that they could come out of here one day and make it their business to hunt these gray-clad vultures down, to bring them to justice for daring to laugh when thousands suffered, for daring to boast about their children when they burned Jewish ones in stacks, for daring to celebrate in the middle of this slaughterhouse.”

Alma was such an endearing character. Defiant yet dignified, strict yet selfless. Her nerves of steel never faltering even when faced with the most henious of horrors. Her exhaustion from the burden of having so many lives in her hands truly heartbreaking.

I enjoyed the fictional aspects of the story and the authors research, attention to detail and devotion to telling such an important story were amazing.

Thank you to Ellie Midwood, BookOuture and Netgalley for allowing me to read this arc in exchange for an honest review.