Alma Rose: Vienna to Auschwitz

By Richard Newman; Karen Kirtley | Go to book overview

Prologue: Alma Maria Rosé

Alma Maria Rosé: honor her name. She was born to musical royalty in Vienna when the imperial city was a center of the musical world. Her father was Arnold Rosé, violinist and concertmaster of the Vienna Opera and Philharmonic Orchestras and leader for six decades of the Rosé Quartet; her mother was Justine Mahler, Gustav Mahler's devoted younger sister. She was the namesake and godchild of Alma Mahler, her Uncle Gustav's talented young wife; and "Uncle Bruno" Walter was a lifelong family friend. Alma's husband, violinist Váša Příhoda, was the Czech master of pyrotechnics, revered in Central Europe as the Paganini of his day. Her girlhood friends were Erica Morini, who became an internationally known virtuoso violinist, and Margarete (Gretl) Slezak (the daughter of heldentenor Leo Slezak). Margarete, a singer and film star, became the intimate friend of a rising young German politician, Adolf Hitler.

Alma -- ardent, impetuous, steeped in musical tradition -- embraced music as some embrace religion. She was independent of mind and ahead of her time. In the 1930s, she founded and led a women's touring orchestra that personified the froth as well as the musical acumen of Old Vienna. Smiling, swaying in unison in graceful waltz gowns, the young players charmed with their music and calculated feminine appeal. In the years of economic depression between the wars, Alma's orchestra ate when others went hungry, a pattern that would repeat itself grotesquely.

Like many other prosperous and assimilated Viennese Jews who did not practice the religion of their ancestors, the Rosé family were caught off guard by Nazism. When Hitler seized power in Austria and Alma's brother and his wife fled to America, Alma took responsibility for her aging father's welfare. She arranged her father's flight and her own to London; then, alone, she went to Holland to continue her musical career. Caught in the Nazi vise, she was

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