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France, 1999 (MIFF 1999, Documentaries)

Director: Michel Daëron

Bach in Auschwitz is a sobering account of the experience of 40 women who survived the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp of World War II by belonging to a group known to both prisoners and Nazis alike as 'the ladies of the orchestra', The women were from all over Europe. One thing kept them bound together and out of the hands of their potential executioners: their musical talents.

Knowing that their deaths could follow the finale of any single performance, the women nevertheless played with total conviction. Perversely, in a place where the very idea of music stood in stark contrast to an all-pervading atmosphere of death and hatred, they were revered by both their fellow Jewish prisoners and the German soldiers who enforced their imprisonment. Their mere existence gave physical meaning to the definition of the 'grey zone' by world renowned holocaust author Primo Levi: "The network of human relationships within the camps are impossible to sum up as two groups, the victims and perpetrators. The enemy was all around but also within; the 'we' lost its borders."

In examining this tender, difficult issue, skilled documentary filmmaker Michel Daeron conducted probing interviews with the 12 surviving members of the Auschwitz-Birkenau orchestra. For many of them this is the first time they have been interviewed on the subject. Daeron's documentary is powerful and tragic, an account of triumphant spirit in the face of systematic violence, hopelessness and despair.

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