Documentary Short on Oldest Holocaust Survivor, Pianist Wins Oscar

Sunday, March 02, 2014 - 10:00 PM

Still from 'The Lady in Number 6,' a portrait of Alice Herz-Sommer Still from 'The Lady in Number 6,' a portrait of Alice Herz-Sommer (Nick Reed)

The Lady in Number 6," a 38-minute-long film portrait of Alice Herz-Sommer, the world's oldest classical pianist and Holocaust survivor, won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Short on Sunday in Hollywood.

The award, which had been widely expected, came one week after the accomplished Chopin pianist died at age 110. 

The film, directed by Malcolm Clarke, tells the extraordinary story of Herz-Sommer, her husband and her son, who were sent from their native Prague in 1943 to a concentration camp in the Czech city of Terezin. Known as a "model" concentration camp, inmates there were allowed to stage concerts, and she managed to survive because of music-loving German officers’ admiration for her piano playing. Herz-Sommer and her son were among fewer than 20,000 who were freed when the notorious camp was liberated by the Soviet army in May 1945 (her mother and her husband died in Auschwitz).

Herz-Sommer had a significant musical upbringing: she was a piano student of Artur Schnabel and her mother was a friend of Gustav Mahler. After the war, Herz-Sommer settled in Israel, teaching at the Jerusalem Academy of Music, and in 1986 she moved to London, where she continued to practice the piano for hours each day until near the end of her life. Herz-Sommer recalls in the film that while in Terezín, she played more than 100 concerts, including the complete Chopin etudes from memory. "Music was our food. Through making music we were kept alive," she once recalled.

For more on Herz-Sommer's life, see Alex Ross's profile in the New Yorker, Anastasia Tsioulcas's feature on NPR Music and Margalit Fox's obituary in the New York Times.


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Comments [5]

Wow, Mr. Renoir.

I recently attended a concert at the Austrian Culture Forum New York, where the music of Viktor Ullman was performed -- indeed, music written in 1944, and played in the concentration camp -- before he died there in Auschwitz.

So, yes, there was music in the concentration camps -- and some of it lives on.


Mar. 04 2014 11:21 PM

Oops! - Meant to vote Nadia's comment "up" - accidentally hit the "down" thumb.

Mar. 04 2014 07:30 PM
Silversalty from Brooklyn

Somehow I laughed, reading the recent comment. Luckily it's not 1938 in Germany and the invocation of God was a bit much, outside of an inquisition. Also, I don't think I've ever heard (or seen) a non-Jew use the word "gentile."

Very strange expression of bigotry.

I guess he didn't like "The Book Thief" either.

Mar. 04 2014 05:58 PM
Nadia from Brooklyn

What a LIFE of the soul

Mar. 04 2014 12:17 AM
Dottie Jeffries

The Lady in Number 6 is based on the award-winning biography A Century of Wisdom: Lessons from the Life of Alice Herz-Sommer by Caroline Stoessinger. Be sure to read the book as well.

Mar. 03 2014 12:07 PM

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