Mistress of Life and Death

Book cover photographs courtesy of The Archival Collection of
the State Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau in Oświęcim

With a fine tip pen, Eischeid has drawn an indelible and detailed portrait of a terrifying enigma, exposing with each stroke another layer of Mandl’s depravity but also faint glimpses of her humanity. Eischeid gives us a timely biography at a moment when modern history threatens to repeat itself.

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Praise for Mistress of Life and Death

Fascinating and unflinching.

Mistress of Life and Death draws on powerful sources and original research to scrutinize the complexities of a notorious Nazi criminal.

This new biography gives a clear sense of SS-woman Maria Mandl as a human being, while still holding in mind the tremendous suffering of her victims. Her roles as daughter, friend, concentration camp guard and abuser are described with impact but not sensationalism. 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.

Mistress of Life and Death is 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.

Like Dorian Gray, Mandl’s attractive exterior concealed the ugliness and unspeakable cruelty of a sadistic soul. In her quest to understand who Maria Mandl was, Susan Eischeid traces the evolution of a good Catholic girl raised in a moral and kind family to ‘Mandelka’, the woman who flayed women with her whip yet battled to form the Auschwitz’s orchestra that served to soothe her savage breast.

With a fine tip pen, Eischeid has drawn an indelible and detailed portrait of a terrifying enigma, exposing with each stroke another layer of Mandl’s depravity but also faint glimpses of her humanity. Eischeid gives us a timely biography at a moment when modern history threatens to repeat itself.

Gina Roitman, author of Don’t Ask.

An accomplished musician-scholar, Susan Eischeid makes distinctive contributions to Holocaust studies as she explores the interconnections between music and the “Final Solution” at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Her focus on the women’s orchestra in that hellacious place has been groundbreaking.

It continues to be with publication of her new, significant biography of Maria Mandl, a music-loving young women who supported the women’s orchestra in Birkenau, while at the same time being one of the most notoriously cruel women who helped to administer the Nazi camp at Ravensbrück as well as the killing center at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Music, mass murder, Mandl—Eischeid’s reckoning with those factors offers page-turning insights about the Holocaust and humanity.

John K. Roth Edward J. Sexton Professor Emeritus of Philosophy Claremont McKenna College Author, The Failures of Ethics and Sources of Holocaust Insight

These staggering pages, the culmination of more than two decades’ work about an arrogant sadistic Nazi horror, the concentration camp overseer Maria Mandl, includes research avenues beyond standard expectations.

Susan Eischeid interviewed not only some of Mandl’s surviving Ravensbrück and Auschwitz victims, but the victims’ children, as well as a candid perpetrator, a rare friend, and even a Polish medical student who dissected a donated corpse that turned out to be Mandl’s.

Mistress of Life and Death is excruciating in its specifics – Mandl’s tenderness toward a child, whom she then leads to the gas chambers, her appreciation of live music as a salve after her hours-long roll calls (and beating) of barefooted women prisoners in the snow. This is a book not only for students of the Holocaust and its lessons, but is one every denier should read.

Alison Owings, author of Frauen: German Women Recall the Third Reich

Eischeid gives us a window into the incredible story of a woman who could have had a normal life but history intervened. Here, 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 francine@zfilms.ca

Susan Eischeid, in her harrowing biography of Maria Mandl, reveals in impressive breadth and detail the story of one of the most horrific of the many horrific female SS overseers that existed during the Nazi era. We witness the story of a woman from a good home, by no means the victim of a terrible childhood, who in a rather sudden transformation mutates into a cruel beast.

The book is brilliantly and accurately researched, and a large number of contemporary witnesses also have their say, giving the book a necessary authenticity. Do we need to know all this? Yes, we must, because we must NEVER forget what happened then, because the danger of its return has not been banished!

Stefan Heucke, Germany, composer of the opera Das Frauenorchester von Auschwitz

While breakthrough books such as Wiesel’s Night and Haley’s Roots opened my generation’s eyes and hearts and souls to unimaginable inhumanity, Eischeid’s book will take you deep into one woman’s life, personalizing the fragility we share with her.

Set aside a special time, read it perhaps with others you trust to study, examine, and reflect with you on Mandl's tragic life. It will make you a stronger parent, teacher, friend, social justice advocate. This book will move you closer to being your best self.

Sara Lambert Bloom, Retired oboist and teacher, recording artist and author of The Bloom Collection. Lifelong advocate for social justice.

Susan Eischeid’s new biography of the chief female guard of the Women’s Camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau is an important contribution to Holocaust studies and affords the reader a glimpse of how the Nazi female perpetrators participated in that ‘terror state.’

Dr. Eischeid has scoured so much archival documentation to support her analysis that little concerning Mandl’s life and crimes has been left out. While Maria Mandl had no qualms in unleashing unrelenting terror on her victims, this biography also provides the reader with an insight into the convoluted and polluted mind of a true believer.

Daniel Patrick Brown, Professor Emeritus, Moorpark College (CA) Author, The Camp Women – Female Auxiliaries Who Assisted the SS in Running the Nazi Concentration Camps

During the Holocaust, several concentration camps had orchestras of prisoners forced to play music for their captors and fellow inmates. The most well-known of these orchestras was the Women's Orchestra at Auschwitz. My Mother, a concert violinist and singer, played there. Her tormentor was Maria Mandl.

My Mother survived, and I grew up listening to those memories. 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. Professor Eischeid’s book is a must read for understanding one of humankind's darkest periods.

Philippe Kahn, Inventor, Scientist, and creator of the first camera-phone

This is a chilling account of how an ordinary Austrian woman from a good family became one of the most brutal and sadistic concentration camp guards at Auschwitz and Ravensbrück.

Brilliantly researched, revealing new material and interviews with those who knew her family, and grippingly written with insight and understanding, Eischeid never shies away from stating with clarity and calm detail the unimaginable acts of cruelty Mandl was capable of inflicting. That agony sits deep on the page.

While it will always be hard to understand and impossible to sympathize, it feels more important than ever to have clear-sighted books like this to shine a powerful light on how such destruction took hold in the heart of apparently civilized Europe. This searing biography of a complex individual should be a compulsory read.

Anne Sebba, New York Times bestselling author of Les Parisiennes

About Susan Eischeid


Susan Eischeid is an author, oboist, and educator. Passionate about animal rescue, she shares her home with a large variety of adored furry creatures and a very forbearing husband.

Susan is profoundly committed to the remembrance and documentation of music and musicians of the Holocaust period. After recording and releasing her album of Holocaust music, Mystic Chords of Genocide, Susan published her first book, The Truth about Fania Fénelon and the Women’s Orchestra of Auschwitz-Birkenau, at the instigation of surviving members of that orchestra.

Susan’s new book, Mistress of Life and Death; The Dark Journey of Maria Mandl, Head Overseer of the Women’s Camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, in now available.


For further inquiries, please visit the Contact page.


Mistress of Life and Death

Mistress of Life and Death

Mistress of Life and Death

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.

The Truth about Fania Fénelon and the Women’s Orchestra of Auschwitz-Birkenau

The Truth About Fania Fénelon

The Truth about Fania Fénelon and the Women’s Orchestra of Auschwitz-Birkenau

An exploration of the Holocaust memoir Playing for Time, by Fania Fénelon, and its troubled and controversial place in Holocaust remembrance and education.

Book Clubs

Susan Eischeid welcomes the opportunity to speak with your Book Club, either virtually or in person. Please contact her to discuss scheduling and availability.

Reading Groups & Discussion Questions


Susan with Oboe

Susan Eischeid is a classically trained oboist and musician. She has performed for many years as Principal Oboe of the Valdosta Symphony Orchestra and previously served as oboist with the Eastern Festival Orchestra and the Mexico City Philharmonic.


For review copies, event and interview requests, or other publicity related queries, please contact: Ann Pryor, Senior Communications Manager, Kensington Publishing APryor@Kensingtonbooks.com

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