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The Violinist of Auschwitz

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Member Reviews

This is a powerful book that left me in tears.  I was sad, and angry too, at the inhumane treatment of the prisoners.  I’ve read a lot of WWII historical fiction, but this is different because it tells the story of the author’s mother, who wouldn’t speak of this time when  she was alive. 
I highly recommend this book, be safe to have tissues nearby.  4 stars.
Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
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Story: I was given a copy of this book via Netgalley, for an honest review! Thank you for granting my  This ebook takes us back from the present day, to back at Auschwitz-Birkenau in WWII. The story is mainly told thru the eyes of the author, and four women, Elsa, Hélène, Violette, and Anita.  Felstein's mother Elsa, got to become part of the orchestra in Birkenau.  Yet she kept those years private from her family, and it took her son many years to get the story out of her.  Also adding the other women, we see what a horror it was back then, but also that even beautiful music can come from the worst circumstances.
Final Notes The Violinist of Auschwitz 3.5/5
I wanted to like this book I did, and it took everything in me to finish it because this is usually my top favorite genre of books, but the book just did not do it for me.  The way it was written, and how it was written, it jumped too much and I had to keep track of who was telling the story, and what voice I was meaning to listen to, so as much as I wanted to love this book, it was not one of my favorites.
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The Violinist of Auschwitz by Jean-Jacques Felstein was a beautifully written book that touched my heart. 
These books are not an easy read and you will need tissues and lots of them. 

This book is set in  WWII this 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'.

This is a remarkable book, by Jean-Jacques Felstein that 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. I find Books about this time are always important so we can learn from history.

Big Hugs for Jean-Jacques Felstein and his family x

Big Thank you to Pen & Sword publishing and Net Galley for the free ARC
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I very much wanted to love this story, and the story itself was wonderful, beautiful and so very tragic.  My main difficulty was with the POV switching back and forth in a confusing manner.  I had difficulty keeping track of who was speaking, which part of the story we were on.
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Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing this book in exchange for an honest review.

What a terrible subject to cover. I did find this narrative hard to follow at times, perhaps this was due to the translation. Still, a well-written account of the atrocities that occurred through wartime. A recommended read.
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Jean-Jacques loses his mother at a young age. She was a quiet, detached woman who survived hell on earth, Auschwitz. Elsa, his mother, survived the camps thanks to the violin but promised herself that she’d lock the memories deep inside, sharing nothing with her son who longs for an emotional connection with her that he just didn’t get. So he sets out to discover who his mother was during this time by visiting other survivors of the womens orchestra. While trying to learn more about his mother, he captures the stories of the other women and in a way discovers a bit of himself and how past experiences shaped the way he was raised.

What caught my attention right off the bat was the title. Having read a fictional account of the women’s orchestra at Auschwitz, I was already familiar with Alma Rose and I was intrigued at the opportunity to get to know more about the other women who’s musical gifts saw them through history’s darkest hour. They came from all over Europe, Jews and non Jews, each with their own story to tell. Some recalled Elsa fondly, some did not. I finished the book still not knowing much about Elsa but I learned so much about the orchestra as a whole and how their unity as a group helped them
To survive.

Thanks so much to NetGalley, Pen & Sword and Jean-Jacques Feldstein for the opportunity to read this captivating book.
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A hard read but a book worth reading. I'm not going to lie I had a box of tissues in my hand as soon as I opened the book. Because I knew that I was going to read them and I was right.
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The Violinist of Auschwitz by Jean-Jacques Felstein, an excellent and mind blowing book which narrates a horrific story of Nazi rule. I have never read something like this. The author has portrayed minute details of Holocaust which are beyond imagination. It is not only a biography but an emotional picture of a country torn apart because of war and hatred. The plot is basically set in a camp where Jews are assigned to play music for the Nazi soldiers with disregard to their basic rights. They live in un- hygienic conditions and are forced to play music whatever happens.

I would like to give the book 5 stars for its amazing narration and plot. Thanks to Netgalley for providing me an opportunity to read and review the book.
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I'd like to thank the writer and publisher for granting me access to this title.

I really like historical (non)-fiction. I have read many books on World War II but I have never read anything about orchestra in concentration camps. I enjoyed reading this book. It was very interesting and insightful.
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Alma Rose was a talented violinist. Her life had opened up for her a world of opportunities that is, until the Nazis descended and brought a world of evil and hatred that brought destruction to the world she embraced.

Sent to Auschwitz, Alma is chosen to lead the rag tag orchestra that plays for both the Nazi higher ups and those who are entering the camp, many of which are sentenced to immediate death. At first she refuses the post, but then realizes what that position could mean, extra food and the ability to intervene in their death sentences. Alma takes on the role, and meets Miklos, a pianist, and they fall in love. Held together by the nightmares they share, they find consolation in their music, notes, and concerts always wondering if someday this hell they live in will end.

This story, as all Holocaust story is tragic, but it does show the ability of so many to withstand evil and learn to live another day with hope. Told through memories of the girls in the orchestra, this is a vivid portrait of evil and death awaiting those confined to the death camps. 

It is a reminder that humans should never separate one group of people from the mainstream because of their beliefs and ancestry. It frightens me to see that this might occur again even though so many have pledged never again!

Thank you to Netgalley for a copy of this story that was so vivid and often pointed out the vileness of mankind.
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INTERESTING NARRATIVE ABOUT THE HOLOCAUST AND THE AFTERMATH

"When you've been to Auschwitz, you can never leave it completely. When you haven't been there, you can never truly understand."


👍 What I Liked 👍

Narration: This is not a memoir. It isn't a biography either. it's somewhere in between with elements borrowed from both genres. The narrator is both telling his story of growing up with a mother, who went through Auschwitz, and he is telling his mother's story as well as the stories of her friends. The narration, therefore, becomes were unique, because it's both the voice of the actual narrator but also the voices of the women who played in the orchestra with the narrator's mother. At first it was difficult to get into, but it quickly became one of the things I enjoyed the most.

Journey: Another thing that made this book quite unique was the journey, that the author describes. His own journey into his mother's history. Through interviews with his mother's friends he learns more about his mother after her death. It is both an emotional and physical journey, and both are fascinating to follow. The author gives away a lot of himself to the reader, which made this a very interesting story to dive into.

👎 What I Disliked 👎

Chronology: I am a sucker for chronology. It is a personal preference of mine, and others might not care all that much. Personally, I was a bit bothered by the jumps back and forth in time. The jumps are clearly marked, which was nice, but as the story went on, I had a hard time keeping things straight and remembering when what had happened.
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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 Feldstein 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. An incredible story unfolds, and this is a fascinating, heartfelt, and at times, harrowing read. Definitely recommend!
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Of all I’ve ever read about Auschwitz, I never read anything about an orchestra.  This book centers around an all female orchestra.  

While the story is intriguing, it was slightly hard to read due to the way the author chose to have his story unfold.
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The author tried to discover what his mother endured in the camps that she never spoke of. Most prisoners found they could only speak of such things to others who had been there. She felt like a stranger in her own family. Even her violin came to represent evil.
Concentrating on music allowed the prisoner musicians to momentarily forget the everyday horror of the camps. Even among the orchestra members there was inequality. The Poles tended to be anti-Semitic. The aristocrats received food parcels that they didn’t share.
The author spends a lot of time telling his own story of his search.
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As there are now fewer and fewer survivors alive to give their account, it is unsurprising attention is now shifting to the children of those who have now passed away. This is one such example and has been written by the son of a woman who survived because she was part of an orchestra in the concentration camps.

Elsa found relationships difficult and was emotionally detached from her son. Following her death, he decided to track down others who were in the same situation, those who survived by being part of this bizarre orchestra and who remember his mother. (although not all do.)

Through this, he is able to build a picture of his mother. To construct her narrative that was always hidden from him during her lifetime and to find a way to lead to his understanding of her.

This is a book that is well worth reading
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would like to thank netgalley and the publisher for letting me read this book

an insightful read that leaves you at times cold...when you realise the implications of what some of the people on those death camps had to do to survive....

if you are interested in this type of book its well worth a read
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1943

Elsa is taken to Auschwitz and survives because she played an instrument and was able to join the women's orchestra. She never told her family, her son found out later and worked hard to unearth his mother's history, to learn more about his mother who he had a difficult relationship with.

Contemporary Day

Determined to learn more about her life "Before" he sets out to meet and interview the other orchestra musicians. His quest will take him to many countries where he learns more about the women and his mother.

I know this was a labor of love and had great personal meaning to the author and I hope this brought him peace. I love that he names all the women who were in the orchestra in the Author's note. This is a great story which has also been told before in another book by the same title. That book was a five-star read for me. This one told the story of the same women, but the writing/storytelling did not work for me. Plus, I could not help to compare it to the other book by the same title.

A harrowing and worthwhile story about the women's orchestra in Auschwitz and one man's attempt to learn more about his mother's secret past.

Others enjoyed this more than I did, please seek out their reviews as well. It was hard for me to get past the way the book was written.

Thank you to Penn & Sword and NetGalley who provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All the thoughts and opinions are my own.
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Interesting book and allowed me to learn even more about Auschwitz, what people had to suffer through when imprisoned in the camps and how the survivors reflect on their experiences.

Obviously due to the subject of the book it`s an emotional and hard hitting read but worth reading.

The only negative I have is that I got confused as to who was who at times due to the flicking back and forth between time frames and how many women were spoken about.

So glad I read this though to learn more about Auschwitz and the survivors.
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The Violinist of Auschwitz
by Jean-Jacques Felstein
Pub Date 30 Nov 2021 
 Pen & Sword,  Pen & Sword History
 Biographies & Memoirs  |  History  |  Nonfiction (Adult)





I am reviewing a copy of The Violinist of Auschwitz through Pen and Sword History and Netgalley:





Elsa was arrested in 1943 and deported  to Auschwitz, Elsa survived because she joined 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.  In reconstructing his Mother’s life in Auschwitz 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.



The Violinist of Auschwitz is a powerful true story of survival against all odds.



I give the Violinist of Auschwitz five out of five stars!
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The cover first attracted me to this book, with its attractive violin, marred by the yellow star the Jewish were made to wear when the Nazis came into power giving a stark contrast for what the instrument is used for making beautiful music. When you really think about it in really simplistic terms the violin epitomises love whereas the yellow star really does symbolise hate.

The book begins with quite a long prologue by the author Jean-Jacques Felstein about his at time problematic relationship with his mother Elsa. Jean-Jacques explains he always felt a distance between them. The very fact that his mothers “before”, her history and what she went through during the Holocaust and her time in Auschwitz-Birkenau was never mentioned to him at all. As a child he grew up knowing not to mention it. His parents were divorced meaning it was rather like he had two lives, the one when he was with his father and then the one, he had when he was with his mother. Jean-Jacques describes seeing the numbers on his mother’s arm and knowing what they represented and that her memories of the tie around her having those numbers was not a good time for his mother to think about, never mind speak about. He also had the knowledge that sometimes a hug & kiss from him to his mother, could chase away her nightmares of her time at Auschwitz-Birkenau, if only for a little while. Jean-Jacques remembers talk of the family members that never made it through the journey his mother, Elsa did. Such as his Aunt Lydia, the one in the old photo’s whose old books he loved and read but was never talked in length about as she was from the time “before” the time in “Auschwitz-Birkenau”.

Unfortunately for Jean-Jacques all this mystery and the sense of tragedy about what had happened to his family, made him very insecure and he had awful nightmares where he searched for his parents in burning buildings and then when his parents separated, he was sent to a children’s home and that is where he first heard the truths and horrors about WW2. Jean-Jacques settled more when he realised, he could leave the children’s home to visit his parents. When visiting his mother, Jean-Jacques would see her in her cosmetic salon, Paris-Beaute in Cologne.

It was during school that Jean-Jacques learnt of the real horrors of the Holocaust. His headteacher read the final chapter of the book, The Last Just by Andre Schwartz-Bart, which told him about the true horrors of the men, women and children that were sent to and killed in gas chambers disguised as a shower room. One of his classmates would talk about “Chvitz” and Jean-Jacques began connecting all the little things he hard learnt, seen and perhaps overheard over the years and his nightmares flared again. The one time his mother Elsa ever really told him anything about the Holocaust was when she took him to see the film “The Diary Of Anne Frank”, she explained to him how Anne had almost died in Bergen-Belsen of Typhus, but that was all she ever told him about the awful time in her own history. The other sort of “nod to before” was when Elsa remarried and went on to have a daughter whom she called Lydia after the mysterious “Aunt Lydia” from the past.

It is after Elsa’s death that Jean-Jacques inherits part of her “pension compensation money” from the government and during an argument with his grandmother utters that her daughter had not rotted in Auschwitz for him to do whatever he felt like with that money! Jean-Jacques was 35 years old when he discovered his mother had been part of the Birkenau Orchestra. In fact, it was being selected for this Orchestra that saved her life, though she truly suffered throughout her imprisonment. Jean-Jacques sets about tracing the other women of the Orchestra and the book goes on to tell the story of the “present” where he is going to meet other survivors some remember his mother better than others but all share their own stories with him. The book goes back to the time “before” as the survivors reveal the daily horrors, humiliation and punishments they endured. 

This may sound like the wrong thing to say but I hope you understand, I honestly enjoyed reading this book, despite it being about an horrific period in history. It is so well put together, Jean-Jacques goes to great lengths to explain his at points very distanced relationship with his mother Elsa who coped with what had happened to her and her family by not speaking about it. Different people deal with such gruesome histories in their own particular way, her were to leave it behind her, to not speak of it at all, yet she was so clearly deeply affected by it throughout her life, so much so it impacted her own son too. Its so sad that the way he learnt about the Holocaust was via his headteacher at school and a classmate.

I’ll be honest I had expected Jean-Jacques to just be telling his mothers story, which yes, he does learn about the day-to-day realities of his mother existence in Auschwitz-Birkenau but he also tells the stories of the other members of the Orchestra. The survivor’s individual stories, as well as the collective story of the Orchestra. The survivor’s before the Holocaust, how they ended up in Auschwitz, how they survived, who they lost and how they coped and recreated lives after when they had their freedom back.

My immediate thoughts upon finishing this book were that it was a very moving read. I feel it was as much about Jean-Jacques, his mother Elsa, and the other survivors as well as the ins and outs of how the Orchestra was formed and what those women were expected to do, all in equal parts.

Summing up, this book begins as a record of a rather fraught relationship between a boy, then man with his mother. A mother that had been through a horrible time whilst being held prisoner in Auschwitz-Bikenau. His mother Elsa is so traumatised even years and years later that she can never bring herself to speak to her son about what went on there. So, after his mother’s death, he sets himself the task of tracing and contacting the other women that played in the Birkenau Orchestra. Jean-Jacques travels to meet these other strong women who survived who are willing to tell him their own story, as well as what they remember about the Orchestra and his mother Elsa. If you are fascinated about this dark, era of history, then this book is a must read for you, it is so much more than a memoir.
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