Surviving Auschwitz with Brahms
By CNN's Robyn Curnow
LONDON, England (CNN) -- For some prisoners at Auschwitz, each note, each chord, every soaring crescendo of Brahms served as protection from the gas chambers.
Anita Lasker Wallfisch made music for the Nazis. She says it saved her life.
"We had a job there, our job was to play marches, thousands of people who marched out into factories surrounding Auschwitz," she says.
"You know it was surrounded by loads of factories, prisoners used as slave laborers. Every morning thousands walked out, and in the evening they walked back in. And we sat at the gate and played marches."
She was a cellist in the "Auschwitz Orchestra."
"There wasn't any music, the music had to be written. It was a crazy ensemble."
"Anybody who could play anything tried to get saved into this relative safety of the orchestra, because as long as they wanted an orchestra they couldn't put us in the gas chamber."
Today, it's hard to understand how such real-life horror could have had a soundtrack. Film director Christoper Nupen tries to explain the role of concentration camp music in his movie "We Want the Light."
"You can't describe it, you can't describe what it's doing for people and how it feels," he says. "It gave them a spiritual sustenance."
Pianist Alice Sommer, now age 101, remembers the hunger in her years at Theresienstadt concentration camp.
"Now when I think we had the strength to play, singers to sing, without eating, it's a miracle," she says.
Sommer and her son Raphael, who grew up to be a professional cellist, performed propaganda recitals with other musicians staged by the Nazis for Red Cross visits.
Propaganda or not, the music provided spirtual escape.
"The spell of music, the spell of music," she says. "The life you forget about, the life here on Earth with all the evil. You are, are I would say, near to God."