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Opera in Auschwitz

By Agi Geva

There were arias from La Bohème, Tosca, Madame Butterfly, and many more that I had heard one memorable Sunday afternoon in Auschwitz.

They were sung in Hungarian by Lili, a woman from my small hometown of Miskolc. How precious that music was to me. With each note that Lili sang my spirits soared higher and higher over the gates of hell, lifted by the sheer beauty of the music and the sweetness of Lili’s voice.

Lili first sang to us on a particularly dismal day when everyone’s hope seemed to have run out. We were all sitting outside, numb with despair, when Lili stood up and started to sing a beautiful aria. At first her voice was unsure from lack of use, but as she continued to sing, her voice became more confident and strong. It was hard to believe that such a beautiful and powerful voice could emerge from such a tiny, frail young woman.

Our bodies had been pushed to their limits. We were all starving, our heads were shaved bald, and we were weak from exhaustion, but when Lili sang she seemed powerful, strong, and beautiful. Words cannot describe how her simple act affected me so deeply. I was mesmerized by the music. It replenished my supply of hope, the most precious commodity one could have in Auschwitz.

From that point on, Lili sang every Sunday afternoon. Even the Nazi guards came to listen to her sing. My looking forward to those Sunday afternoons helped me endure the rest of the week. In fact, my having something to look forward to helped make my life in the camp more bearable.

I am not sure what prompted Lili to sing that day; perhaps she sang as a way to feel human again, or perhaps she sang to cheer up all of us. Regardless of her intention, the memory of that voice still makes me shiver.

When I wrote this story I had no clue what had happened to Lili after we were liberated and I returned to Hungary. Everyone went their separate ways and attempted to rebuild their lives. But I thought about Lili often and finally decided to utilize the resources available to me at the Museum to try to find out where she was, if she was still alive. I cannot describe the emotions that overwhelmed me when I discovered that she is not only alive but living here in America, about a five-hour drive away. Surely fate had played a part in bringing us back together again...

©2008, Agi Geva. The text, images, and audio and video clips on this website are available for limited non-commercial, educational, and personal use only, or for fair use as defined in the United States copyright laws.