The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved my Life – A documentary on Alice Sommer, the world’s oldest pianist and holocaust survivor

The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved my Life, is a short movie of 38 minutes released in 2014 by its director, Malcolm Clarke, and nominated at the 2014 Oscars in the Documentary Short category.

It tells the story of a 109 years old lady named Alice Herz Sommer, and what a story. Born in Prague in 1903, Alice was raised in an “intellectual atmosphere” built by her parents, which that she describes as being the most important thing that accompanies an individual in his life, more important even than the things that school teaches you. Franz Kafka was a family friend. She conversed – or rather her mother – with Gustav Mahler… She became a pianist.

Having chosen the career path of a concert artist, she soon met the man who would become her husband, and in 1937, they had their son, Raphaël. She was living a fulfilled and happy life.

On 15 March 1939, Hitler’s army marched on Prague, and soon after, Nuremberg laws started to be implemented in Czechoslovakia. Music was only allowed for non-Jews, but Alice, “as a form of quiet resistance”, continued to play on her piano. Her mother, the father of her friend, her husband, every Jew in Prague got arrested and deported to Auschwitz or Theresienstadt.

It is in Theresienstadt that Alice and her son were sent, the concentration camp that was used for the nazi propaganda to show how well the european Jews were treated. Artists and intellectuals were sent there, and music groups, orchestras were formed. For Alice, “as long as we could play, it could not be so terrible”. And it is the “atmosphere” she tried to maintain for her son. From his own terms, he has very few dark memories of this time, thanks to the efforts of his mother to protect him.

Both survived, and after the liberation of the camp in 1945, Alice lived in Israel and then in London, where she died on 23 February 2014 at the age of 110. She remained an incredible optimistic and happy person, inhabited by music and love for life. “Music saved my life, and Music saves me still”. She had a profound curiosity in people and their lives, and used to swear that she never hated the nazis and never would. Because of music, Alice had access to the consciousness that “life is beautiful” and that there is “no place nor time for pessimism and hate”.

The movie can be rent or bought here.

Update!: The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved my Life won Best Documentary Short at the Academy Awards on 2 March 2014.

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