Posted by on May 9, 2022 in Blog, Dame designate, Health, History, Music, Sport | 2 comments

Anita Lasker-Wallfisch/USC Shoah Foundation

I am currently reading Tim Harford’s book: How to Make the World Add Up: Ten Rules for Thinking Differently About Numbers. Each chapter takes a critical look at how individuals, think tanks, governments, charities and other organisations take facts and figures and present them to support/refute their particular preoccupation or activity.

Having been duly warned not to accept claims or unusual phenomena at face value, I’ve decided to do just that and invented my own theory of evolution. It’s not completely mine: I have read articles that would seem to endorse this, but I’m unaware of specific double-blind tests. Which is not that surprising, as it’s all about endurance, and because this is damesnet I am drawing from examples of women who fit this category.

It seems to me that acute circumstances can lead people either to crumple completely or find reserves that make their survival almost incomprehensible.

This week in 1992 Belgian mountaineer Ingrid Baeyens scaled Everest. It was her fourth such peak.  She was the first Belgian woman to reach the summit of Everest and is one of the few living climbers to have reached the top of four ‘eight thousanders’, ie mountains over 8000 metres. The others were: Gasherbrum II in the Karakoram on 08.08.98, Dhaulagiri I in Nepal on 11.05.90 and the South Face of Annapurna I on 23.10.91 with Krzysztof Wielicki. Baeyens was born in 1956. She climbed with her husband until he died on a climb in Peru in 1987, but as you can see from the dates above she scaled the eight thousanders after his death.

She could have curled up and grieved the loss of her husband and climbing companion, but did exactly the opposite.  Here’s another extraordinary example: Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, born 17 July 1925 is a German-British cellist, and a surviving member of the Auschwitz women’s orchestra.  She was born into a Jewish family in what is now Wroclaw in Poland. She was sent to Auschwitz in 1943; the orchestra played marches as the slave labourers left the camp for each day’s work and when they returned. They also gave concerts for the SS.  In 1944 Lasker-Wallfisch was transferred to Bergen-Belsen and survived for 6 months until the camp was liberated. She moved to the UK, married a pianist and had a family. My daughter was at school with her grandson, now a composer. Lasker-Wallfisch visited the school and spoke about the Holocaust and showed the students her prison camp tattoos.  She is still alive.

My third example is taken from the life of an old friend whom I shall call Greta. She is German and in her eighties. Her family was sent to the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia when Germany annexed the area. Her father hated the Nazis but was called to the front and died in action. When the war ended, Czechoslovakia reclaimed the Sudetenland. There was a knock on Greta’s door and her mother was told she had half an hour to pack belongings and leave. She put Greta’s two younger siblings in the family pram and piled it with whatever she could grab. Their nanny insisted on accompanying them on the train journey back to Germany.  Greta and her family had very little to eat for months when they returned; no one wanted to house and feed a widowed woman with three young children in post war Germany.

Greta is one of the most energetic and fittest people I know. She cycles everywhere, swims and walks and is a bastion of her local Age Concern group. She had a successful career working for German television in London.

I leave you to draw your own conclusions; does extreme deprivation, either physical or mental, lead people to develop extraordinary reserves? Or does my tiny sample warrant no more than a cursory glance? Who knows?


  1. Fascinating, Barbara. Definitely food for thought.

    Even by sharing a tiny sample of such endurance it makes the reader feel humble and certainly warrants more than a cursory glance.
    Tim Hartford’s book is on my list!
    Thanks again.

    • Enjoy!

      Dame B

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