Family reflections on Yom HaShoah: a personal search into the dramatic saga of her Mahler- Rose-Bujanover family

May 1, 2020 by Inna Rogatchi
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I grew up with those photos. The photos from distant beautiful fairy-like life: Tuileries Garden, Paris, elegantly dressed woman, her children surrounded by birds and flowers in a totally another dimension of life.

Alma Rose, the last photo. October 1942. Amsterdam. Courtesy (C): Staercke family.

Are those my uncle and aunt? And the elegant madame is my great-aunt? How interesting, I thought. It would be nice to speak with them, I thought. Which language should we use? My French is not so good, my German is inoperable although I do understand quite a lot of it because of Yiddish, but I do not think they have ever used it. Well, English will do then. We should be fine, I thought.

I was late to speak with my great-aunt. I did locate her a few years after her passing in London in the early 1990s. Our family used to think that she was staying in France after my great-uncle, quite famous doctor Simcha Bujanover’s death there in Aix-en-Provence in the late 1970s. I was surprised to find out that today doctors in Europe are still using my grandfather’s brother Simcha’s book on gynaecology and paediatric studies published in 1921 in Berlin.

I like to look at the only photo of Simcha we had, the one on which he is most probably in Zurich where he studied, with my other great-uncle Chaim Bujanover, before the start of the Great War. Back to Ukraine, in 1918 Chaim was decapitated by Ukrainian Petljura animalistic gang on his way home after the date with his fiancee.

By the time I established that Simcha’s wife Eleanor Rose-Bujanover had relocated to London, I could only gather parts of facts and memories about her and her family. And what an illustrious family it was. Performing violinist, Eleanor was a niece of Arnold Rose, famous violinist, the concertmaster of Vienna State Opera Orchestra and Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra for over fifty years and the co-founder and leader of the great Rose Quartet, eternal gem of the world music heritage. Arnold was married to Justine Mahler, the sister of great Gustav.

The other co-founder of the Rose Quartet was Arnold’s brother Eduard, one of the great cellists of his time. They were four great Rose brothers, coming to the top of the Western music from Jassy in Romania, all born Rosenblums. Jassy was quite a place to be born for art-affiliated Jews. The place is known traditionally as the Cultural Capital of Romania, with a huge and thriving Jewish community there in the past, the community which needed as many as 127 synagogues in the second part of the 19th century. Jassi is known in the Jewish cultural history as the place of both the first-ever Yiddish newspaper and first-ever professional Yiddish theatre appeared. Notably, brilliant Naftali Hertz Imber happened to write the text of Hatikvah while being just there in the course of his never-stopped journeys. The Rosenblum-turn-Rose family was moved to Vienna some seven years before that important fact of Jewish history.  The main reason for the move is understood to be a strong musical talent demonstrated by all four Rose brothers. In Vienna, they mastered their talent for shining brilliance.

In a significant inter-mingling of Rose and Mahler families, two of the Rose brothers, Arnold and Eduard married two of Gustav Mahler’s sisters, Justine and Emma. While Eduard and Emma were staying in Weimar, Arnold and Justine were living and working in Vienna where Arnold was perceived as the most famous of great Viennese musicians, ‘The God of the Violin’, as Oscar Kokoshka called him.

Chaim and Simcha Buajnover ( sitting). Zurich, before the Great War. Courtesy (C): Inna Rogatchi Archive.

Arnold’s aristocratic admirers collected money secretly to acquire a stunning gift for his 50th birthday, Viotti Stradivarius. What a celebration it was there and then in Vienna in 1910, to laud the great Maestro. It was the year of Gustav Mahler’s death, too. Mahler’s death masque stayed with Justine and Arnold for 32 years, all the years of Justine’s life and four more, until Arnold gave it to Mahler’s daughter Anna in London in 1942.

After receiving that extraordinary Viotti Stradivarius,  Arnold handed his previous great instrument, Guadagnini violin built in 1757 that he bought in the Netherlands in 1924 to his daughter Alma to perform on it.

My great-aunt Eleanor, the daughter of Arnold and Edward’s brother Alexander, was quite close to Arnold and Justine’s family and their daughter Alma, her first cousin. Alma probably is the most well-known member of the Rose-Mahler-Bujanover family today, due to a couple of films, plays and books about her, all rather subjective and biased, as it happened, sadly. She was a notable violinist before the Second World War and died tragically in Auschwitz. She was 38 at the time.

Her mom, Mahler’s caring sister, died six years before her daughter, in her own house, in Vienna. Justine died of a heart attack that has stricken her immediately after the Anschluss when her great husband was unceremoniously kicked out of his job, and they were about to be kicked off their superb house. Justine’s heart could not take it, but at least she did not witness what her husband tragically had to endure.

Arnold and Alma were whisked from Vienna by two British highly placed gentlemen who were admirers of their music and who were noble people. But when in London, elderly Arnold and his daughter were practically left on their own in the extremely daring time from 1938 onward. Alma, trying to earn some money to sustain her elderly father and herself was going back and forth from London to the Netherlands to play anywhere possible as long as it was possible. One time in a banality of evil applied to daily life in early 1940s Europe, her trip to Amsterdam had happened to be one way. There was no way back.

She was living in hiding, in three different places over two years between 1940 and 1942, with the noble help of Dutch people. Marye Staercke who with her husband Paul was helping Alma with her second lodging, said in her interview to Richard Newman in a noisy cafe in Amsterdam back in 1983 simply and plainly: ”Our duty was to help anyone who did need the help”.

I am a big proponent of documentary materials and in particular footage and recorded oral history. No transcript would relay personal recollections in the way a person does it by him- or herself. So listening to the only publicly accessible live interview of the person who hid Alma Rose for 16 months between August 1941 until December 1942 brings the sense of the events alive to me.

As it had happened with many creative women during the Second World War with the Final Solution-in-progress, many of them panicked and were trying to hide, to run, to disappear feverishly, being extremely nervous, quite understandably. In several tragic cases I know personally, it fired back. Alma’s case happened to be one of them. She contacted the people in the Dutch Resistance and asked them to smuggle her to safety. In such operations, it was accustomed that somebody from Resistance would accompany the person on the run. In Alma’s case, it was a young Dutchman. After a very daring journey via France, with constant passing from one underground contact to another,  and never being sure of anything or anyone, both of them have finally boarded a train from Dijon to Switzerland. The safety was literally around the corner.

Simcha and Eleanor Bujanover family. Berlin and Paris, 1920s. Courtesy(C): Inna Rogatchi Archive.

Alma and her travelling companion who all his remaining life refused to reveal his real name publicly, were arrested on that train just before it would start to move, in December 1942. It is assumed that they were denounced by the French agents of the Gestapo who infiltrated the French Resistance. As we know, it was quite wide and pretty efficient infiltration.

After several weeks of harsh interrogations in the Gestapo prison in Dijon, Alma was transported first to Drancy, and was registered there as entering in January 1943 under the number 18547.  Before the Nazis were taken over the operation there (it was run for them by the French until the summer of 1943), terrified friends from the Netherlands tried every possible way to delay her further transportation from Dancy to the East, meaning Auschwitz. I saw the documents in which it is said that the French top musicians have informed famous and known as being in excellent terms with the Nazis pianist Alfred Corrot about Alma’s desperate situation hoping that ‘he would take it close to his heart’. There is no evidence that he did.

As it is believed by her family and historians who were looking into some episodes of that tragic saga, Alma’s destiny was sealed with Eichmann’s decision to take Drancy under the German control.  Eichmann chose his compatriot Alois Brunner to be his envoy there and his personal deputy at the Drancy in June 1943. The Nazis were repeatedly dissatisfied with how inefficiently French were doing the job and insisted that the quota for the transports to the East should be fixed even if it meant to fill the transports with non-Jewish French whoever would be suitable for it: communists, Resistance members, Maki.

Brunner acted in his and Eichmann’s ‘small clerk’s way’: in his new capacity, he arrived at Drancy in mid-June 1943, set up a small table in an unremarkable room there, and methodically personally interrogated all prisoners at the Drancy during four days, non-stop. With this round done, Brunner disappeared for some while.

Eleanor Rose. Berlin, 1920s. Courtesy (C): Berlin Film Archive.

In three weeks sharp, Brunner sent Eichmann a report on completion of a new Judentransport with 1000 Jews, asking for Eichmann’s written approval of the order. Four weeks sharp from the day of his appointment to the position of Drancy Nazi supervisor, Brunner sent off Convoy Number 57 to Auschwitz with one thousand Jewish people in it. Alma was among them. The family believed that being Viennese, Brunner must have known who Alma Rose was.

Of that one thousand people on the convoy 57, thirty men and twenty-two women survived. And that unremarkable Brunner, the butcher of Viennese and Salonica’s entire Jewry, plus an exterminator of Drancy, lived until at least 2001 in Syria and Egypt, dealing arms and being military adviser to nice rulers of those countries in various periods of time. Why Brunner was allowed to live at least to 89 and to die of a natural cause is one of the biggest mysteries, to me.

Transported to Auschwitz, Alma was soon made the leader of the female orchestra there. She died under still unclear circumstances in April 1944.

After her death, her bow with a black ribbon on it was on display on the wall of the female orchestra barrack in Auschwitz. During the days of mourning Alma, Mengele entered the barrack, went towards the wall, and stayed there looking at Alma’s bow for a long time. The players of the female orchestra who happened to be inside at the time were astounded.

* * *

In a few weeks after that weird episode, Elie Wiesel’s family was arrested and transported on Shavuot 1944, and taken to Auschwitz. It had been a month since Alma’s death. Elie mentioned later that he was surprised to see that one of the top-officers whom he later identified as Mengele, was walking around the platform sorting the people unloaded from the trains – to the left and to the right, to be spared for the time being, and to be eliminated immediately, – by a bow. A violin bow!  – emphasised Elie being ever surprised on that odd scene.

Eleanor Rose. London. 1980s. Courtesy(C): Rose family.

Elie was an aspiring violinist himself. He came to the death camp carrying his own violin and that’s why that bow in Mengele’s hands grabbed his attention and was imprinted in his memory for good. Elie’s violin was soon smashed physically with a laugh by one of the Polish or Ukrainian capos when Elie being prompted by his father to go the Nazi who was responsible for an orchestra and asked to be taken in there. Ellie did not enjoy joining the orchestra and he was not in a mood to play, to put it mildly. But his father cared for him, especially after they were left alone after Ellie’s mother and young sister were murdered on the arrival, following Mengele’s gesture by that bow and was trying to save his young son. He knew that people taken to the orchestra were fed better, so it was a higher chance for his beloved son to survive.

Shlomo Wiesel begged his son to try to get himself to the orchestra. But the local capo did not believe that the youth could be a talented violinist, and took pleasure in crushing his violin by his dirty boot. So, Elie lost the chance to join one of the Auschwitz male orchestras, but he did remember that bow in Mengele’s hand instead of his usual whip.

It was Alma’s bow. I am positive on that, due to the chronology of the events, Ellie’s first-hand detail, and the  Mengele and many Nazis’ perverted attitude towards the music. For some reason, not many people know till today that the favourite by Eichmann himself his own nickname among the close circle of his lackeys was ‘Maestro’. That ‘Maestro’ loved to play a violin, or pretend to do so, and at some stage did have somebody’s Stradivarius to torment it.

They did many details similar things, those evils in human disguise. Long before Mengele and many others on that platform in Auschwitz were enjoying tending a whip in their gloved hands, Hitler was known to walk with a whip on Berlin streets, to the terrifying surprise of many there yet in the early 1930s, according to the first-hand memories of the Bonhoeffer family members.

I am sure that Mengele has decided the destiny of Elie Wiesel’s family, his mother and sister, as so many others, by pointing them towards the death with Alma Rose’s bow. I traced the Rose family’s violins for years and did so. Except for that bow. That bow.

* * * *

Alma and Arnold Rose. 1927, a year before recording Bach’s Double Concerto. (C) Rose family.

Alma did not take her Guadagnini on the run with her. She left it with a trusted friend in Amsterdam. The instrument was given to a man with a hand-written notice from Alma: “Not to be lost”. Alma friends from her dramatic years in the Netherlands observed later on that she was attached to that violin incredibly.  She also wrote a will. As it happened, she did it a bit over 3 weeks before her arrest. It is a two-phase will, literally, appointing two of her close friends, in succession, ‘to organise her funeral and to dispose of her belongings’.  The biggest treasure of which was her and her father’s Guadagnini.

That violin was brought to poor 82-year Arnold Rose, the great violinist of Vienna, to his London lodging, in the autumn of 1945, with no words articulated. No words were needed. About the same time, he had also received from another person Alma’s wristwatch and her mother Justine Mahler’s precious pearls necklace. The decent woman who was with Alma at Drancy and whom Alma trusted her family belongings shortly before being sent on the Judentransport convoy 57, returned Alma’s possessions to her friends in Amsterdam.

Arnold died soon after receiving back his own Guadagnini on which his daughter would not play anymore.

I traced the life of that beautiful instrument built by a great Italian master in Milan in 1757. It is a story of its own. The Alma Rose Guadagnini violin, as it is known officially now, after being with Arnold’s pupil and great violinist, the concertmaster of Metropolitan, Felix Eyle from 1947 to the end of his life in 1988, nowadays is the property of a well-known musician who prefers not to be named. The Arnold’s great Viotti Stradivarius built in 1709 nowadays belongs to the collection of the original rare instruments of the National Bank of Austria. Special committee there decides on their instruments’ loans to leading musicians.

Eduard Rose. Courtesy (C) Rose family

As it happened, Alma Rose should not have run in the first place, the same, as Nathalie Kraemer who made the same mistake at the same time in 1943 in France. The family who hid Alma exclaimed in despair soon after the end of the war: “Nobody ever came here to check on her! She would be safe if she would stay with us!” It is heart-wrenching to know it. And it was like that for Eleanor, Alma’s first cousin and completely devastated Arnold, her father who lost his wife, his beloved daughter, his work, his music, his house, his life.

He also lost his brother Eduard who co-founded the Rose Quartet with him back in 1882. In Weimar, Eduard suffered the same destiny as his brother in Vienna: being the first cellist in the Weimar State Orchestra, he was kicked off his work at the first opportunity. He lived alone in their house after the death of his wife Emma in 1933, the other sister of Gustav Mahler, and was thrown out of it unceremoniously by the Nazis, placed in the infamous Ghetto House in  Weimar, and eventually taken to Theresienstadt in 1942. During his last years, over 80-year old Eduard was summoned to Weimar Gestapo many times for long humiliating interrogations. Somebody there have had a special pleasure to torture an elderly musical legend. Eduard Rose was murdered in Therezin in 1943. He was 83 years old.

The Rose Quartet had been playing with phenomenal success for fifty-five years. There never would be anything like that in the history of music.

* * *

Original record of Arnold and Alma Rose, 1928. Berlin. Fine art photography collage (C) Inna Rogatchi.

I cannot talk about my uncle Alexander. In the photos, Alex looks exactly like my other uncle Leonid, the brother of my father Isaac. Alex became a doctor, like his father Simcha, my grandfather’s brother. He was a good, promising doctor and a brave young man. He ran from occupied Paris to Switzerland successfully, I found the traces of him illegally crossing the border, in several archives. As soon as the war was over, Alex went to one of the DCPs, Displaced Persons Camps, to treat thousands of people gathered after the Nazi camps there. He contracted the typhus from some of his patients and died in 1948. He was 28 years old. His mother, Eleanor Rose never came to terms with Alex’s death. She was positive that her beloved son could have been saved. “It was after the Shoah, after!” – she used to exclaim in defiance, according to the people who spoke with her years after the war the 1980s.

All these years after the war filled with the terrible news of fallen members of a once brilliant musical dynasty, Eleanor was looking for one record. The record. She knew that father and daughter Rose, her uncle and cousin, recorded the elegant J.-S. Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor back in 1928. As it happened, it is the only known record of Alma Rose. She played on her Guadagnini for the record, and her father Arnold played on his Viotti Stradivarius. There are few records of Arnold surviving, and some of the Rose Quartet, but this record of Arnold and Alma of 1928 is the only one known.

Eleanor tried every way and person she knew to find the record, with no much luck. It truly was – and still is – an extremely rare record to find.

Eleanore Rose died of heart failure in her ripe age in 1992. On the day of her funeral, the post arrived at her flat in London. In a small envelope, there was the record she was desperately looking for so many years. Austrian geologist turned music historian and archivist and living in Germany, Wolfgang Wendel found the record and sent it to Eleanor. It did not make it in time.

Michael Rogatchi (C). J.-S. Bach. Double Concerto for Violin in D Minor. Oil on canvas. 120 x 100 cm. 2007. Private collection.

Mr Wendel kindly sent the record to me too. Initially, I could not listen to it. It was too painful. For years, I’ve trained myself to listen to the unique record, bit by bit.

What is also amazing is that my husband Michael, independently,  painted that very piece of Bach’s music which happened to be his favourite work by the great composer.

So now, that one melody and two violins, and so many human lives around it are living in its own world keeping on the memory of the part of my family alive – and remembered.

On the eve of Yom HaShoah this year, we have made it a focus of our Special Art Bulletin of The Rogatchi Foundation Culture for Humanity Global Initiative. It can be read, watched and listened to here.

Oscar Kokoscha. Watercolour, gift to Arnold Rose. 1942. Courtesy (C) The Gustav Mahler – Alfred Rose Collection, Music Library, University of Western Ontario, Canada.

My husband and I are very honoured to be able to maintain a memory of the brilliant musicians who enriched the world’s culture in an important way and who were destroyed so cruelly in such matter-of-fact fashion of that diabolical Nazism machinery.

I am honoured to remember them, but I feel so desperately sorry for them. As for every one of our six, and most likely more millions, our Shoah toll, with more than a third of our murdered people still remaining nameless. So indefinitely sorry.

No speeches would ever amend the damage and crimes committed. But a melody played by two people, a father and a daughter, superb musicians from a great family in the history of world culture, played by two of them 92 years ago, almost a century back, is alive. Despite anything. This is a miracle which is the secret of Jewish survival. And this is unbeatable by any evil.

I guess I was able to speak with my exterminated relatives, after all. It is an indescribable feeling. It is only up to music to relate it.

The essay is an excerpt from Inna Rogatchi’s forthcoming book on her personal search into the dramatic saga of her Mahler-Rose-Bujanover family.

April 2020.

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