Register here to join our In Conversation Live with Dr Anita Lasker-Wallfisch and Maya Lasker-Wallfisch
This week we have Professor Sir Simon Wessely (RSM immediate Past-President) and Professor Henrietta Bowden-Jones (RSM Psychiatry Section President) interviewing Dr Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, Holocaust survivor and successful cellist, and her daughter Maya Lasker-Wallfisch, a Psychoanalytic Psychotherapist, Author and educator, specialising in transgenerational trauma.
Dr Anita and her daughter Maya will be discussing Anita’s remarkable life and legacy, teaching work in schools, and efforts to understand and combat anti-Semitism and race hatred in all its guises. Maya will be talking about her memoirs entitled Letter To Breslau, published in 2020, which brings together three generations of the Lasker family, and the impacts of intergenerational trauma on her own life. Maya will also be discussing her second book due to be published in 2022.
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Dr Anita Lasker-Wallfisch’s biography
Dr Anita Lasker-Wallfisch was the youngest of three sisters in the Lasker family. Born in 1925 in Breslau (today Wroclaw, Poland), she enjoyed a sheltered and happy childhood in a musical and highly cultured Jewish family. Her mother was a talented violinist, her father a successful lawyer who was awarded the Iron Cross in the First World War.
Anita was eight years old when the Nazis came to power in 1933 and distinctly remembers how everyday life changed and experiencing anti-Semitic hostility. By 1939 Anita’s father, Alfons, was banned from exercising his profession and her oldest sister, Marianne, was able to join a transport of Jewish children to England en route to Palestine, but as war broke out remained in England until 1945. By 1942 Anita’s parents were deported and murdered by the Nazis. Anita and Renate (her middle sister) were arrested by the Gestapo whilst attempting to escape by train to France.
Anita and Renate spent a year in jail in Breslau before being separated. Renate was sent to Jauer and sentenced to hard labour while Anita remained at Breslau. Both were eventually deported to Auschwitz Birkenau, where through a series of miracles they were reunited. Both survived the Nazi death factory: Anita as the cellist in the infamous women’s concentration camp orchestra, Renate saved by her younger sisters’ tenacity. In late 1944, both were sent with other prisoners to the Bergen-Belsen camp, liberated by British troops in April 1945. They were stuck in Belsen for almost a year until eventually arriving in England in 1946.
Anita’s ability to play the cello saved both her life and that of her sister Renate. In 1946 after she emigrated to England, Anita founded the English Chamber Orchestra and toured extensively throughout her professional life. In 1948 whilst in Paris, by chance, Anita was reunited with an old school friend from Breslau, the concert pianist Peter Wallfisch, who has spent the war years in Palestine. They married in London where they made their home.
It was nearly five decades before Anita made her first trip back to Germany. In her advanced years, she continues to lecture and pursues an inter-generational dialogue with young people.
In 2018, Anita gave the central address to German Parliament and members of the government for The Holocaust Day of Remembrance. This speech was named the Best Speech of the Year 2018 as Anita told of German history, her own life as a German-British Jew and of resurgent anti-Semitism in Germany. Angela Merkel and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier personally thanked her for her moving words, free of resentment and accusations but filled with hope.
Maya Lasker-Wallfisch lives between London and Berlin. She is a Psychoanalytic Psychotherapist, Author and educator. She has an interest in working with people whose lives have been impacted by the Holocaust and other displacement trauma.
Maya grew up in London in silence: Nobody talked about her family’s German past or her mother’s experiences of the Holocaust. Maya couldn’t escape the wounds of her family history and struggled to find her place both personally and professionally for many years.
Long before the concept of transgenerational trauma was recognised, Maya exhibited many of the symptoms that now have contexts from which the unconscious transmission of trauma can be understood and thought about.
To overcome the silence, she wrote letters to her grandparents, her direct way of setting up a dialogue with her past. Piece by piece her words have brought the family together and helped her understand how one’s own history always depends on what happened in the past.
In her memoirs named Letter to Breslau, Maya offers a unique exploration of the impact of the Holocaust on three generations of her family. The book interweaves stories from Maya’s life with those of her mother Anita, told through letters written to her grandparents, whom she never knew because they were murdered in the Izbica concentration camp in 1942.
Her work in Germany enables Maya to continue her mother’s remarkable legacy and reach vast audiences, by combining her subjective and psychological experiences, and history with contemporary issues. A theme that unites both Maya and her mother Anita.
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