Alice Herz-Sommer is no armchair philosopher. At 109, she knows exactly what’s important in life from her experience in Theresienstadt during World War II. Alice, the oldest Holocaust survivor, is the subject of the Oscar-nominated documentary short: “The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life.”
In less than 40 minutes, director Malcolm Clarke and co-writer Nicholas Reed present Alice’s life story, from her formative years with family friends Gustav Mahler and Franz Kafka to her present-day life in a North London apartment (No. 6) where she still plays piano hours every day. The spry centenarian wears Converse All-Stars, laughs often (she said she even laughed in the camp) and glows with a happiness that seems to defy her history.
After the Nazis took over Czechoslovakia, Alice, 39 and already an accomplished pianist, and her toddler son Raphael were taken to Theresienstadt, a concentration camp where tens of thousands died and from which more than 150,000 others were sent to their deaths in Auschwitz. In Theresienstadt, the Jewish people were encouraged to practice their arts and were filmed enjoying music, acting and other joyous activities for propaganda. Alice played more than 100 concerts, including all of the Chopin Etudes from memory. Prisoners and guards alike drew strength and happiness from her music. She said music has always given her hope — it is a religion.
Alice said of Holocaust survivors like herself and two friends we meet in the film: “We are aware of the beauty of life.” The film is almost completely and unbelievably optimistic and uplifting. But good luck keeping a dry eye.
—Julie Riggott, Culture Spot LA
“The Lady in No. 6,” which will screen with other Oscar-nominated shorts, opens at Laemmle’s Royal in West LA on Friday, Feb. 14. Culture Spot LA readers can win a pair of free tickets valid Monday through Thursday during the film’s engagement. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with “Lady in Number 6” in the subject line to be entered in a drawing.
Laemmle’s Royal is located at 11523 Santa Monica Blvd., West LA 90025. For tickets and information, visit http://www.laemmle.com/films/37883.