Oral History

Sandor (Shony) Alex Braun describes playing the violin for SS guards in Dachau. after two prisoners before him had been killed

Shony was born to religious Jewish parents in a small Transylvanian city. He began to learn the violin at age 5. His town was occupied by Hungary in 1940 and by Germany in 1944. In May 1944, he was deported to the Auschwitz camp in Poland. He was transferred to the Natzweiler camp system in France and then to Dachau, where he was liberated by US troops in April 1945. In 1950, he immigrated to the United States, and became a composer and a professional violinist.


When I got out of the barrack, I figured when my turn comes to play, I'm gonna play which I feel comfortable. I'm gonna play either a sonatina by Dvorak, which I performed, in fact, later I performed in Radio Munich, but which...or I'm gonna play, uh, a Kreisler composition. But when, when I saw what I saw, and the violin in my hand, my mind went completely blank. Nothing came to me. And I said to myself, "God, how is it that sonatina starts? How is, how is, how is the, the Kreisler piece starts? My God, how, how does anything starts?" I couldn't think of anything. And now I noticed, from the corner of my eyes, that the murderer Kapo picked up his iron pipe again and was walking toward me. And I knew I'm gonna be killed. I knew it. So my right hand and my left hand all of a sudden started moving in perfect harmony. And the Strauss Blue Danube was heard coming out of my violin. Now, how? I never thought of the Blue Danube. Never. I heard it, in fact, I, I am even, hate to admit to you, I never even played it really. I heard it many times from the Gypsies, and my brother, who was a fantastic accordionist in his high school group. But playing, I was not even allowed to play anything else but classical. And the Kapo looked at, eagerly, to, to the SS, "When shall I whack him? When shall I hit him?" Instead, the SS guard was humming the melody, and was beating the rhythm with his fingers--like 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3. And he, he just smiled and, "Let him live."


  • US Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection
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