Another more fateful night occurred soon after as another SS officer walked through our barracks waking everyone up. I could not believe my eyes! He was holding a violin and bow! He announced, "Whoever can play this, come to the front room. You will be given food and water, even salami if I like how you play." I scrambled down from my bunk. A dream come true, I thought as I shouted, "I can play it! I can play it!" Spurred on by the mere thought of food and the incredible opportunity to touch a violin, I scurried after the SS officer as did two other men. He led us out from our compound into the barracks where the German officers lived. He brought us into the officers’ dayroom where the privileged went to relax. No other officers were there at this late hour. Several kapos surrounded us, awaiting their orders as the two men and I waited for a chance to play the violin.
"Who will be first to play?" asked the officer.
A man, perhaps forty years old, pushed me aside to be the first to grab the violin from the SS officer. He tuned it and started to play Bach’s "Sonata No. 6." The first few notes were shaky, but soon he was playing the sonata more beautifully than I had ever heard it played. He was a great virtuoso. It was heaven just to listen to the sweet strains of the violin.
The SS officer’s face reddened with anger as he grimaced. "You said you could play! You don’t know how to play," he mocked. The SS began to curse him and signaled to a dark-skinned kapo. That kapo picked up a thick iron pipe. He walked behind the violinist, and as another kapo took the violin from his hands, the beast struck the virtuoso so hard his skull cracked open, splattering brains and blood all over the floor, the walls, all over me! He died instantly. Never had I seen such a senseless act. What had I gotten into? What would they do to me if they didn’t like the beautiful music this man had just played? Surely they will crack my skull, too.
I was numb with shock as they gave the violin to the second man, in his twenties, too tall and thin for his baggy prison clothes. He was so frightened that his trembling arms could only scratch the violin strings with the bow.
"What kind of music is that! Do you think we should give you food for that?" screamed the SS as the kapo kicked him viciously, knocking him to the floor. I realized that the SS officer and the kapos were not interested in music. This was just another game that led to death. Everything they did meant death for us. Two kapos continued kicking him relentlessly as the SS officer spewed curses.
During the commotion, I tried to sneak away, but a third kapo hauled me by my collar to the middle of the floor. The beaten prisoner, his lungs mortally punctured by his broken ribs, tried with every fiber of his being to stay alive, wheezing desperately. They dragged him out of the room where he died seconds later.
Now it was my turn. The kapo jabbed the violin at me as though it were a weapon. "Spiel, play," he ordered.
I had planned to play "Shön Rosmarin" by Fritz Kreisler or a sonatina by Dvörak, but in that bloodied room, my mind went totally blank. I trembled, petrified, praying, "Oh God! How does "Shön Rosmarin" start, how does the sonatina start, how does anything start?" I noticed the kapo pick up the bloody pipe and walk toward me. Every nerve in my body braced for a blow. I knew I was going to be killed. I felt his evil presence looming only two steps away from me with the metal pipe lifted in readiness to end my life.