Sep 2020

VII. Laudatio, Hommage, In Memoriam: The Improbably Possible Life of Anita Lasker-Wallfisch

The Improbably Possible Life of


Anita Lasker-Wallfisch


Michael Eskin, New York, New York


On July 17, 2020 Anita Lasker-Wallfisch celebrated her ninety-fifth birthday. Ninety-five years and counting – a long life – for anyone, to be sure – but especially for someone who survived Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. Until very recently, I didn’t know this name – all the more reason to be grateful for knowing it now! – this, quintessentially Jewish, name – a poetic name – poetic in and of itself insofar as it is intrinsically metaphorical – what’s a ‘wall fish’, after all? – and also insofar as, being metaphorical and, thus, intrinsically poetic, it embodies the very journey that brought Lasker-Wallfisch from Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen to England, where she would live for the rest of her life. Poetic also in that its bearer survived the camps thanks to the poetry of music, thanks to the fact that she played the cello and was selected to join the Women’s Orchestra of Auschwitz… The rest, as they say, is history: professional success after the war, marriage, family, children, grandchildren, international honors, high-profile interviews and public appearances… But what are the odds? How unlikely to survive all that thanks to the miracle of four fingers being able to flit up and down four long strands catgut strung taut over a piece of ebony… And how poetic…

Lasker-Wallfisch’s is one of those stories you sometimes come across in newspapers or history books – about people who survived multiple plane crashes, or tsunamis, or earthquakes, or terminal illnesses, and lived to a ripe old age: An highly improbable story, in other words, yet an unequivocally possible one.

Aristotle once suggested that a poet should always strive and opt for the probable, if impossible, story line as opposed to the possible but improbable one. Probable impossibility is what makes for the consummately poetic, whereas improbable possibility leads to the “prose of the world,” as Hegel put it. Now, the consummate poetry of Lasker-Wallfisch’s life – oh so improbably possible – proves Aristotle wrong many times over…


Please find a recent interview with Anita Lasker-Wallfisch and her daughter on German TV here.

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