The Lady In Number 6 Wins 2014 Oscar for Best Documentary Short Subject

The Lady In Number 6: Music Saved Her Life

Alice Herz-Sommer, who died in London last Sunday at the age of 110, was widely described as the oldest known Holocaust survivor. She had been a distinguished pianist in Europe before the war. However, it was only after the Nazi occupation of her homeland, Czechoslovakia, in 1939 that she began a deep study of Chopin’s Études, some of the most technically demanding and emotionally impassioned works in the piano repertory.

For Mrs. Herz-Sommer, the Études offered a consuming distraction at a time of constant peril. But they ultimately gave her far more than that, far more, even, than spiritual sustenance. “They are very difficult,” Mrs. Herz-Sommer said. “I thought if I learned to play them, they would save my life.” And so they did.

In recent years, because of her great age; her indomitability; her continued, ardent involvement with music and her recollections of her youthful friendships with titans like Franz Kafka and Gustav Mahler; Mrs. Herz-Sommer became a beacon for writers, filmmakers and members of the public eager to learn her story. Mrs. Herz-Sommer was also profiled in documentary films, one of which, The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life, a documentary portrait directed by Malcolm Clarke, won the 2014 Oscar for Best Documentary Short Subject.

The Lady in Number 6 has been described as one of the most inspirational stories ever told. In the film, Alice Herz-Sommer, the world’s oldest pianist and oldest holocaust survivor, shares her views on how to live a long happy life. She discusses the vital importance of music, laughter and having an optimistic outlook on life. This powerfully inspirational film tells her amazing story of survival and how she managed to use her time in a Nazi concentration camp to empower herself and others with music.

Read more about the life of Alice Herz-Sommer in the New York Times here.

The Lady In Number 6: Music Saved Her Life

The Lady In Number 6: Music Saved Her Life

The Lady In Number 6: Music Saved Her Life

Alice Herz-Sommer, who died in London last Sunday at the age of 110, was widely described as the oldest known Holocaust survivor. She had been a distinguished pianist in Europe before the war. However, it was only after the Nazi occupation of her homeland, Czechoslovakia, in 1939 that she began a deep study of Chopin’s Études, some of the most technically demanding and emotionally impassioned works in the piano repertory.

For Mrs. Herz-Sommer, the Études offered a consuming distraction at a time of constant peril. But they ultimately gave her far more than that, far more, even, than spiritual sustenance. “They are very difficult,” Mrs. Herz-Sommer said. “I thought if I learned to play them, they would save my life.” And so they did.

In recent years, because of her great age; her indomitability; her continued, ardent involvement with music and her recollections of her youthful friendships with titans like Franz Kafka and Gustav Mahler; Mrs. Herz-Sommer became a beacon for writers, filmmakers and members of the public eager to learn her story. Mrs. Herz-Sommer was also profiled in documentary films, one of which, The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life, a documentary portrait directed by Malcolm Clarke, is a 2014 Oscar Nominee for Best Documentary Short Subject. The awards ceremony takes place on Sunday.

The Lady in Number 6 has been described as one of the most inspirational stories ever told. In the film, Alice Herz-Sommer, the world’s oldest pianist and oldest holocaust survivor, shares her views on how to live a long happy life. She discusses the vital importance of music, laughter and having an optimistic outlook on life. This powerfully inspirational film tells her amazing story of survival and how she managed to use her time in a Nazi concentration camp to empower herself and others with music.

Read more about the life of Alice Herz-Sommer in the New York Times here.

The Lady In Number 6: Music Saved Her Life

Anne Frank: Remembering Anne on Her Birthday

Anne Frank: Remembering Anne on Her Birthday

Anne Frank was born 84 years ago, on June 12, 1929. During her short 15 years, she kept a diary and wrote there sorting out her emotions, describing her crushes and despair, her desires and dreams. Anne kept the diary from 1942 to 1944, the two years that her German-Jewish family lived in hiding in Amsterdam during World War II. In August 1944, Anne, her family and the others who were in hiding with them were discovered by Nazi authorities. They were shipped off to Nazi concentration camps; Anne died in Bergen-Belsen, just weeks before it was liberated.

Historical Background Notes

Surrounded by the turmoil of Weimar Germany, Otto and Edith Frank got married in 1925, and Otto pursued an industrial career. In 1929, the year Anne Frank was born, the stock market in New York crashed, and an already unstable Weimar government was further undermined by economic depression, unemployment and inflation. In 1933, the Nazis came into power. The Franks decided to move to Amsterdam in the Netherlands, which had been neutral during World War I. The Netherlands had the reputation of being a safe haven for religious minorities. Otto Frank left for Amsterdam first and established a branch of his uncle’s company there.

Initially, Anne felt at home in their apartment at 37 Merwedeplien. She and her sisters attended school, went to the beach, and had both Jewish and Christian Dutch friends. The Frank family seemed to have made what appeared to be a good decision and were adjusting to their new life. But like so many other refugees throughout Europe during World War II, the Franks’ belief that they had a safe haven was shattered when Nazi armies violated Dutch neutrality. The Nazi bombing of Rotterdam killed 1,000 people and within five days the government surrendered under the threat of further bombings. Queen Wilhelmina and her government went into exile in London.

At first Anne and Margot were still able to socialize with their friends and attend school. However, soon the Nazi administration in the Netherlands, along with the Dutch civil service, began issuing and carrying out anti-Jewish decrees. This included stripping Jews of their rights as citizens and human beings and isolating them from their fellow Dutch citizens. Otto Frank, aware of what the Nazi decrees had done to Jews in Germany, anticipated as best he could what was going to happen to by turning his business over to his non-Jewish colleagues. Anne had to leave her Montessori School to attend the Jewish Lyceum.

The first brutal round up of 400 Jewish men and boys in Holland occurred on February 25, 1941. It was in response to earlier riots by Dutch Nazis and a counter-attack by a small Jewish resistance group. Virtually the entire working population of Amsterdam and a few other cities in the vicinity went on strike. The strike continued for two days, until the Germans broke it up by force. By 1942, the round-ups of Jews and their deportation to labor, transit and concentration camps were becoming routine. The geography of the Netherlands and the closing of its borders made escape extremely difficult. Fearful for their lives, Otto and Edith Frank prepared to go into hiding. They wanted to stay together as a family and they already had a place in mind, an annex of rooms above Otto Frank’s office at 263 Prinsengracht in Amsterdam.

The employees of Otto Frank agreed to help them. At a time when it was unusual to find anyone to help, the Franks, as Anna wrote in her diary, were “privileged” to have so many helpers and to be together. Besides business associates Victor Kugler and Johannes Kleiman, employees and friends Miep Gies, her husband Jan, Bep Voskuijl and his father were all trustworthy. They not only agreed to keep the business operating in their employer’s absence, but they would risk their lives to help the Frank family survive.

On July 5, 1942, Anne’s sister Margot received a call-up notice for a Nazi “work camp.” Although their hiding place was not yet ready, Edith and Otto Frank realized that they had to escape immediately. Hurriedly, they packed their belongings and left notes behind that implied they had fled the country. On the evening of July 6, they moved into their hiding place.

Otto Frank had made arrangements with his business partner, German Jewish refugee Hermann van Pels, his wife, Auguste, and their son, Peter, to share the annex with his family. They arrived a week later on July 13. The seven residents of the annex were joined by the eighth and final resident, Fritz Pfeffer, in November. Most families who went into hiding were all split up and moved from place to place, dependent on others for help. Many parents tried to place at least their children in hiding, and of the children who survived the war, few ever saw their families again.

Since the annex was above a business, and the buildings on either side were occupied, the eight residents had to be extremely quiet to avoid being discovered. They became a kind of extended family in the confined space of the shared rooms. The Nazi’s and their collaborators were carrying out their plan for the “final solution to the Jewish question.” The annex residents could only wait and hope. Anne wrote in her diary about the long hours of boredom and suffocation. At other times, she felt alone and misunderstood.

News was extremely important to those living in the annex; only Germany’s defeat would end the mass killing of Jews and other innocent victims. The residents constantly argued over when, and if, the war would end. At approximately 10 a.m. on August 4, 1944, Anne and the others’ greatest fear came true. Four Dutch Nazis entered the office building to catch the hidden Jews. Someone had betrayed them, but to this day no one knows who. The Nazis took the residents into custody, transported them to a prison in Amsterdam, subsequently deported them to the Dutch transit camp, Westerbrook, and then to Auschwitz.

Anne and her sister were then transported to Bergen-Belson concentration camp in Germany. At Bergen-Belson, Anne and Margot, already debilitated, contracted typhus. Margot, seventeen years old, died first. A short time later Anne, then fifteen years old, died. It was March 1945. The exact date of their deaths and where they were buried is unknown.

For interested readers, The Anne Frank Center, USA, maintains a scrapbook of her life and times.

Anne Frank’s Attic Window

Anne Frank’s Attic Window

The 150-year-old chestnut tree that comforted Anne Frank as she hid from the Nazis in the attic of the canal-side warehouse in Amsterdam was a ray of hope for the famous diary writer. The Jewish teenager remained indoors with her family for 25 months until they were arrested in August 1944. She died of typhus in the Bergen-Belsen camp in March 1945.

The attic window from which Anne Frank could see the tree was the only one that had not been blacked out. In a diary entry dated February 23, 1944, she wrote: “From my favourite spot on the floor I look up at the blue sky and the bare chestnut tree, on whose branches little raindrops shine, appearing like silver, and at the seagulls and other birds as they glide on the wind… As long as this exists, I thought, and I may live to see it, this sunshine, the cloudless skies, while this lasts I cannot be unhappy.”

The Chestnut Tree and the Attic Window

The Only Known Moving Picture of Anne Frank

Anne Frank Speaks: A Holocaust Documentary

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Porcelain Unicorn: The Healing Power of the Human Spirit

Porcelain Unicorn: The Healing Power of the Human Spirit

Porcelain Unicorn is a sensitively inspiring short film directed by Keegan Wilcox, which was named Best Short Film in the 2010 Philips Global Parallel-Lines Film-Making Contest.  The film was chosen from more than 600 entries from around the world, which were submitted by aspiring filmmakers who created original short films using the same brief six-line dialogue.  This year’s dialogue was: “What is that?  It’s a unicorn.  I’ve never seen one up close before.  Beautiful.  Get away, Get away.  I’m sorry.”

Porcelain Unicorn is a historical drama, which begins with an elderly man who is struggling with memories of 1943 Germany, a time when he was a member of the Hitler Youth Organization.  As a 12 year-old boy, he had broken into an abandoned Jewish shop and discovered a frightened young Jewish girl trying to hide from the Nazi storm troopers.  Their brief encounter in the situation of life-threatening danger led to a shared moment of tenderness, which forged a special relationship between the two children living in war-torn Europe.

The sense of mutuality in that critical experience provided a foundation for an enduring hope in the possibility for emotional healing.  The film invokes a message that conveys a strong conviction in the power of the human spirit to triumph over the trauma of catastrophic events.

Porcelain Unicorn: The Healing Power of the Human Spirit

(Best Viewed in HD Full-Screen Mode)

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Portraits of Life and Loss: The Holocaust and Beyond

Portraits of Life and Loss: The Holocaust and Beyond

Photographs by: Jeffrey Gusky, MD, Mt. Vernon, Texas

Portraits of Life and Loss pairs the work of Roman Vishniac and Jeffrey Gusky, two photographers who wandered the same areas some six decades apart.  Vishniac explored Poland’s Jewish villages of the 1930s and 1940s, documenting communities in peril during an era of growing anti-Semitism.  Gusky’s late-20th-century visits to the same country took him to the sites where those communities once stood.

While Vishniac captured the spirit of a people, their crowded, vibrant communities, pulsing with life, Gusky’s visual journey examines the ghosts they left behind.  Returning to the quiet landscapes that once nourished Jewish life, Gusky found crumbling synagogues, ghetto walls, and silent streets that once hosted bustling markets, and his photographs resound hauntingly, with an almost specter-like aura.

Photographs by Roman Vishniac: A Vanished World

Gorecki Symphony No. 3, “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs”

Slide Show: Portraits of Life and Loss/The Holocaust and Beyond

(Please Click Image to View Slide Show)

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First They Came….

First They Came….

“It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’ve come from,
Or what you believe in or what you do,
Freedom of speech is a civil liberty
.”

First They Came is a very powerful two-minute short film by Florian Malak.  The film was produced as a social campaign based on Martin Niemöller’s famous dictum “First they came…” about the inactivity of German intellectuals following the Nazi rise to power, and the purging of their chosen targets, group after group.  It presents a particularly timely and forceful message in the face of the present-day rapidly rising wave of discrimination against everyone who is perceived as different.

First They Came….

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Shadowplay: The Ghosted Images of the Unforgettable “Shadows” of Hiroshima

Shadowplay: The Ghosted Images of the Unforgettable “Shadows” of Hiroshima

Shadowplay is an animated stop-motion short film, which was written, animated and directed by Dan Blank. The film was the winner of the 2002 Los Angeles Film Festival Best Short Award, the 2002 Student Academy Award (Bronze) and the 2003 Student Emmy Award (Gold). In August of 1945, in a closing chapter of World War II, a blinding flash lit the sky over Hiroshima.  In that searing light, huge slabs of concrete worked like emulsion paper, creating silhouetted photographs of that split-second of power.  Only shadows were left of  the people who had been going about their everyday lives: a man washing a window, one casually entering a bank and another about to whip his horse.  No other word more aptly describes these ghosted images in Hiroshima other than “haunting.” Shadowplay is the story of Akio, a shadow of a young boy, who wanders around the devastated city searching for his family, while trying to make sense of the unfathomable atrocity.

We should be reminded of these images when there is talk of nuclear threats or weapons of mass destruction.  Like the chalk outlines at a modern-day crime scene, the faceless poses of Hiroshma should make us realize that this could have been anyone, anywhere.  For those of us who never lived through World War II or the Atomic Age, the shadows are a timeless, unforgettable portrayal of life stopping.  I hope that you’ll find this film to be a touching, respectful and heartfelt film about the horrors of war.

Dan Blank introduced the film to his audiences with these words: “For an American making a film about a Japanese tragedy, it seems that my film could only be aimed at a global audience, for all sides of conflicts worldwide….I hope the images in ‘Shadowplay’ move you the way they moved me. Thank you.”

Shadowplay: The Ghosted Images of the Unforgettable “Shadows” of Hiroshima

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