I too bleed, and hope for beauty. -- Manca Švalbovš, on the message of Alma's music at Auschwitz
It was rare for the SS to address anyone with the respectful Frau, yet Alma was "Frau Alma" among the Nazi officers who supported her and within the orchestra, and so she was known to her admirers in the camp. Both Mandel and Hössler addressed her as "Frau Alma," Helena and others have testified. The powerful Katya Singer of the camp office was known as "Frau Singer," and Else Schmidt, kapo of the Bekleidungskammer, the laundry and clothing storeroom, as "Frau Schmidt." But the use of Alma's first name in combination with the respectful title was a unique mark of honor. Although she was labeled a Jewish prisoner, she became as powerful as any of Birkenau's "queens," as the kapos in the women's camp were called.
Many survivors have reported that at Auschwitz-Birkenau, it was dangerous to become conspicuous. In any group it was best to be near the center of the formation, protected from the kicks and blows of the guards. Attracting the attention of the SS could mean a beating or even death.
In such a setting, the attention Alma drew to herself constituted high risk. Ironically, the independence of mind and reservoirs of pride and hope that made it possible for Alma to act when others faltered -- the very traits that ensured her protection and the survival of the orchestra -- were also the traits that most exposed her.
Any favors granted through respect for Alma were reflected in amenities of life for all the prisoners of the Music Block. Yet there was something scandalous in Alma's apparently easy relations with the SS. As Dr. Mancy wrote, Alma was often maligned in camp gossip. Her fellow prisoners "at first talked about her quietly; later they began to libel her."
Zofia said the camp was stunned when word spread that Alma was seen seated in Mandel's office, having a normal conversation with the SS comman-