Congratulations to Ellie Midwood on publication day for The Violinist of Auschwitz, and Day 1 of the Blog Tour!
I know that many are of the opinion that if you’ve read one Holocaust novel, then surely you don’t need to read more – they must all be so similar? Well, I’ve read quite a few over the years (honestly, more than I can count) and I can genuinely say that most of them are truly unique, each with their own distinctive nuances. I learn something new from every single book, and I think that in each one, I discover something that I’ve never known before.
The Violinist of Auschwitz is no different. I had never heard of Alma Rosé, esteemed Viennese violinist, who somehow (it was almost implied to be some huge quirk of fate as she did everything to avoid it) ended up in a Nazi death camp. The book is based on Alma’s time in the camp. It briefly tells how she came to be there, but mainly focuses on what she actually managed to achieve as the conductor of the camp orchestra. Yes, there was an orchestra in the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, and this is the first time I have read such a vivid description of what exactly such a thing would be used for. The cruelty and evil perpetrated by the Nazi’s is chillingly portrayed here, and when one reads about the various methods of deception that were used in all the different areas of camp life, it is extremely unnerving. I also haven’t read many books where such a clear distinction is made between the workings of Auschwitz and Birkenau. They are not one and the same place as many often assume. Close together, but different places with different purposes.
As the conductor of the orchestra, Alma is also bestowed with the title of Kapo over her group of charges. Initially she is resentful: she doesn’t want to use her gift to play music for murderers; the people who have ruined her life, who she sees as nothing more than animals. It’s ironic really, because this is how the Nazi’s felt about the Jews, and anyone else who didn’t share their views. I also found this a little surprising as I thought that it was generally known that the Germans (and let us remember that not all Germans were Nazi’s) considered themselves highly cultured people, especially when it came to their love of classical music and opera. Alma quickly realises though, that she wields a huge responsibility towards ‘her girls’ and she can use that to their benefit, which she does wherever and whenever she can.
Alma’s strength and bravery is astounding. The author has imagined her character, based on her extensive and thorough research, but the interactions she creates for her with the infamous Dr Mengele (and his laboratory), the head of the women’s camp, Maria Mandl, and with the high-ranking SS officers, had me holding my breath. Each time, I was positive that she had gone a step too far. But with her musical gifts she holds them all somewhat in the palm of her hand, and they grant her whatever she requests. She is a master manipulator and negotiator and immediately knows how she can use her role to its greatest advantage.
Reading Ellie Midwood’s notes at the back of the book, she talks about a film called Playing for Time, which portrays Alma’s time in Auschwitz. But she said that in the film, the characterisation is completely wrong as she comes across as cold, unemotional, self-centered and prone to hysterical and violent outbursts. It sounds like they made her out to be a typical ‘creative’! Midwood set out to dispel that notion and has softened Alma’s edges somewhat. Making use of the extensive research available to her, much of it from those who had spent time with Alma in Auschwitz, she paints a picture of someone with nerves of steel and a heart of gold. In a place where everyone was looking out for themselves, where it was easy to forget who you were, here was a woman who brought a group of people together and reminded them of their humanity and what it means to feel emotion.
I don’t want to say too much more here. This is a story that needed to be told, and I think that Alma Rosé would be immensely pleased and proud with the way that Ellie Midwood has done that. It goes without saying then, that this is most definitely a 5 star read!
And just as a brief postscript, I have to mention how much I adored Miklos. My late dad, Michael was born in Hungary. When the Nazi’s eventually arrived in Budapest, his father and older sister were sent to concentration camps, but he was still very young and stayed with his mother. They were moved into the Budapest ghetto where they remained until the end of the war. His sister survived Ravensbruk and a death march, and eventually they were reunited, but they never saw their father or most of their family, again. When my father escaped Hungary in the late 1950’s soon after the Hungarian Uprising, he arrived in England and quickly Anglicized his name. He changed his surname entirely, and so Miklos Katz became Michael Kelvin. If anyone asked, he was now English, not Hungarian (sometimes the accent did give him away!). Eventually his mother, together with his sister and her husband were able to join him. And although he did manage to completely immerse himself into an English lifestyle, somehow the name Miklos as a term of endearment, used by very close family and friends always stuck.
Thank you to Bookouture for giving me the opportunity to take part in the tour for this very special book. Follow along and see what others are saying about The Violinist of Auschwitz …
Ellie Midwood is a USA Today bestselling and award-winning historical fiction author. She owes her interest in the history of the Second World War to her grandfather, Junior Sergeant in the 2nd Guards Tank Army of the First Belorussian Front, who began telling her about his experiences on the frontline when she was a young girl. Growing up, her interest in history only deepened and transformed from reading about the war to writing about it. After obtaining her BA in Linguistics, Ellie decided to make writing her full-time career and began working on her first full-length historical novel, The Girl from Berlin.’ Ellie is continuously enriching her library with new research material and feeds her passion for WWII and Holocaust history by collecting rare memorabilia and documents.
In her free time, Ellie is a health-obsessed yoga enthusiast, neat freak, adventurer, Nazi Germany history expert, polyglot, philosopher, a proud Jew, and a doggie mama. Ellie lives in New York with her fiancé and their Chihuahua named Shark Bait.
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