Testimonies

Reaction to the orchestra's playing:

The concerts received mixed responses from prisoners. Some were pleased at the change in the atmosphere provided by the music and gained new courage from the power of music. Some refused to take part because it was a painful reminder of their previous life or better times. To many, the cheerful music against the gruesome background was morbid and served to intensify their suffering even further. 

In a post-war account, an SS officer Perv Broad put this into words:

   "At the camp gate, a prisoner's band played a jolly German marching tune, to the accompaniment of which work squads marched to their afternoon work. It was not easy for them to keep in step in their clusmy wooden shoes, and with blistered feet. If one of the prisoners failed to do this, he was mercilessly kicked or beaten in the face."

Both musicians and marchers emphasized how horrific the scenes were, particularly in the evening marches. The prisoners were treated mercilessly and forced to perform extremely difficult hard labor all day. By the time they were forced to march back to the camp, many prisoners could only limp in time to music. Others struggled to carry the seriously ill prisoners or the dead prisoners who had died during the day.

A former Birkenau inmate Mali Fritz spoke on his experience during the evening march back to camp:

"The return march into the death camp is arduous, we can lift our legs only with difficulty and are too tired to say anything. Always this sense that I am carrying on my shoulders layers of mud and dust and above all, the ashes of those who are no longer marching... As we march into the camp, this madhouse music really tries to play in time, but why?....Our ghostly column must look as if it has come crawling out from the bowels of the eart. And left, and left, and left, two, three...damned rhythm of fear."