Mistress of Life and Death: The Dark Journey of Maria Mandl, Head Overseer of the Women's Camp at Auschwitz- Birkenau (Hardcover)
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The first-ever biography of SS Overseer Maria Mandl, the highest-ranked woman in the Nazi killing machine and one of the few female perpetrators of the Holocaust.
With new details and previously unpublished photographs, this gripping, unflinching examination charts her transformation from engaging country girl to “The Beast” of Auschwitz.
By the time of her execution at thirty-six, Maria Mandl had achieved the highest rank possible for a woman in the Third Reich. As Head Overseer of the women’s camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, she was personally responsible for the murders of thousands, and for the torture and suffering of countless more.
In this riveting biography, Susan J. Eischeid explores how Maria Mandl, regarded locally as “a nice girl from a good family,” came to embody the very worst of humanity. Born in 1912 in the scenic Austrian village of Münzkirchen, Maria enjoyed a happy childhood with loving parents—who later watched in anguish as their grown daughter rose through the Nazi system.
Mandl’s life mirrors the period in which she lived: turbulent, violent, and suffused with paradoxes. At Auschwitz-Birkenau, she founded the notable women’s orchestra and “adopted” several children from the transports—only to lead them to the gas chambers when her interest waned. After the war, Maria was arrested for crimes against humanity. Following a public trial attended by the international press, she was hanged in 1948.
For two decades, Eischeid has excavated the details of Mandl’s life story, drawing on archival testimonies, speaking to dozens of witnesses, and spending time with Mandl’s community of friends and neighbors who shared their memories as well as those handed down in their families. The result is a chilling and complex exploration of how easily an ordinary citizen chose the path of evil in a climate of hate and fear.
About the Author
Susan J. Eischeid is a performer and teacher specializing in the music of the Holocaust. Professor of Oboe at Valdosta State University, she was drawn to the Maria Mandl story through her involvement with members of the women’s orchestra at Auschwitz-Birkenau. In the course of twenty years devoted to her subject, she has been privileged to interview many survivors of the Holocaust, as well as dozens of persons with ties to Mandl including family members and perpetrators. Eischeid has also presented multiple recitals and lectures about music and musicians of the Holocaust period across the United States and in Europe. She can be reached at SusanEischeid.com.
Praise for Mistress Of Life And Death
“A vivid, painful record.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Brilliantly researched, revealing new material and interviews, and grippingly written with insight and understanding, this searing biography of a complex individual should be compulsory reading. —Anne Sebba, New York Times bestselling author of Les Parisiennes
“A distinctive contribution to Holocaust studies, Eischeid’s significant biography of Maria Mandl will offer page-turning insight about the Holocaust and humanity.” —John K. Roth, author of Sources of Holocaust Insight
“Susan Eischeid’s new biography of the chief female guard of the Women’s Camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau affords the reader a glimpse of how the Nazi female perpetrators participated in that ‘terror state.’” —Daniel Patrick Brown, author of The Camp Women: Female Auxiliaries Who Assisted the SS in Running the Nazi Concentration Camp System
“Eischeid’s book will make you a stronger parent, teacher, friend, and social justice advocate. It will move you closer to being your best self.” —Sara Lambert Bloom, oboist, educator; author of The Robert Bloom Collection
“Fascinating and unflinching, Mistress of Life and Death draws on powerful sources and original research to scrutinize the complexities of a notorious Nazi criminal. An important addition to the growing body of work about female perpetrators in the Third Reich." —Lucy Adlington, author of The Dressmakers of Auschwitz: The True Story of the Women Who Sewed to Survive
“A masterful, deeply researched, and painstaking account of Maria Mandl’s life, her rise as head overseer of the women’s camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, and her eventual descent as a war criminal. Eischeid has drawn an indelible and detailed portrait of a terrifying enigma, giving us a timely biography at a moment when modern history threatens to repeat itself.” —Gina Roitman, author of Don’t Ask; subject of the award-winning documentary film "My Mother, the Nazi Midwife, and Me"
“These staggering pages, the culmination of more than two decades’ work, include research avenues beyond standard expectations. This is not only a book for students of the Holocaust and its lessons, but one every denier should read.” —Alison Owings, author of Frauen: German Women Recall the Third Reich
“Eischeid reveals in impressive breadth and detail the story of one of the most horrific female SS overseers that existed during the Nazi era. The book is brilliantly and accurately researched. Do we need to know all this? Yes, we must, because we must NEVER forget what happened.” —Stefan Heucke, composer of the opera "Das Frauenorchester von Auschwitz"
“In this revealing and riveting story of Maria Mandl, we are captivated and intrigued by a woman who was responsible for some of the greatest war crimes in our recent history.” —Francine Zuckerman, Producer/Director, Z Films
“Maria Mandl's actions as a concentration camp guard are a stark reminder of the brutality and inhumanity of the Holocaust and serve as a testament to the importance of remembering and studying this dark period in human history.” —Philippe Kahn, Inventor, scientist, and creator of the first camera-phone