The Orchestra Girls
There was never a time like it: with the elite of Europe -- people we'd never meet otherwise -- naked, together in our natural juices. -- Helen "Zippy" Spitzer Tichauer
The bonds which keep the survivors together are closer than any blood ties. -- Dr. Ena Weiss Hronsky
Tactics for survival at Birkenau were as diverse as the human spirit. Young Margot Anzenbacher (later Margot Větrovcová) sustained herself by the elaborate fantasy that she was a sports reporter observing a life-and-death game between Hell and Ruin. She had only to remember and report on the contest.
Margot wrote about an incident when SS on horses chased a work gang. She and other girls fled into the water. By submerging herself under a tree branch and keeping her nose above the water, she was able to breathe. "I said to myself. 'Remember you are a sports writer.' Playing reporter helped me in many situations. It gave me strength. For instance, in the very hot sun, thirsty, dirty, sick of being hit by an SS man, I told myself how fortunate I was to be able to work. All the time there were dreams of sleeping in a clean room, or having clean underwear."
Alma also sustained a fantasy: whenever possible, she acted as if she were elsewhere. She entered the music room from her plain cell as if making a stage entrance. Ramrod straight at the podium, baton in hand, she was as dignified and passionate about the musical task at hand as if she commanded a great orchestra. Grete Glas-Larsson, her Viennese friend in the Revier, believed that Alma did not allow herself to realize where she was. She remembered the irony implicit in Alma's explosion one day: "I can't believe it! I cannot stay here!"1
The few friends permitted glimpses behind Alma's facade said that she acknowledged her predicament only in the direst situations. Then her aloofness would evaporate, and she would sigh, "If we don't play well, we'll go to the gas."