Fania F‚nelon's depiction of conductor Alma Ros‚ as a cruel taskmaster in her memoir-turned-film Playing for Time was the catalyst for this biography of the woman who founded and led the Auschwitz women's orchestra until her death in 1944. Surviving orchestra members felt F‚nelon had presented an unfair portrayal of Ros‚. Newman, a music critic with access to Ros‚ family papers, decided to set the record straight. Newman and coauthor Kirtley have produced an exhaustively detailed account of Ros‚'s life and times, covering Viennese musical society from the late 19th century until the rise of the Third Reich, life in occupied Holland, emigration and escape from pre-WWII Europe, daily life at Auschwitz-Birkenau and Alma's place in each. The result is a fascinating and painstaking history of an era but not, until near the end, an engaging biography. Ros‚ was born into a musical dynasty: her mother, Justine, was the younger sister of Gustav Mahler; her father, Arnold, was concertmaster of the Vienna Opera and Philharmonic orchestras as well a leader of his own acclaimed quartet, and it was he who taught his daughter to play the violin. It's not until her arrival in Auschwitz, midway through the book, that Ros‚ emerges as someone other than a dedicated artist, devoted daughter and spurned lover. Interviews with fellow orchestra members and camp survivors gratefully recall her efforts to find jobs for non-musicians and her advocacy for the comfort and safety of the women in her block. At one point, Ros‚ asked for--and got--a heater in the middle of winter by telling camp officials that the instruments needed constant and warm temperatures. (Apr.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.