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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The Jockstrap Raiders: Heroic British Misfits Defeat Invading German Armies

The Jockstrap Raiders: Heroic British Misfits Defeat Invading German Armies

The Jockstrap Raiders is a delightfully wacky animated short film by animator Mark Nelson, which won the 2012 Student Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. In a slightly altered version of World War I, Germany is building a bridge across the English Channel to invade Britain.

Britain’s sole hope is The Jockstrap Raiders, a former amateur rugby club for freaks and geeks, all of whom had previously been excluded from the war due to various bizarre abnormalities. The team switches balls for bombs and goes into battle aerodynamically shaved and wearing only jockstraps, becoming the heroic flying squadron that foils the invading Kaiser and his army.

The Jockstrap Raiders: Heroic British Misfits Defeat Invading German Armies

(Best Viewed in Full-Screen Mode, with Scaling Off)

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Taliban Shoots Pakistani Schoolgirl, Advocate of Education for Girls

Taliban Shoots Pakistani Schoolgirl, Advocate of Education for Girls

When she was only 11 years old, Malala Yousafzai stood up to the Taliban by giving voice to her dreams. As turbaned Taliban fighters swept through her town in northwestern Pakistan in 2009, the tiny schoolgirl spoke out about her passion for education. She wanted to become a doctor, she said, and became a symbol of defiance against Taliban subjugation.

On Tuesday, masked Taliban gunmen answered Ms. Yousafzai’s courage with bullets, singling out the 14-year-old on a bus filled with terrified schoolchildren and shooting her in the head. Two other girls were also wounded in the attack. All three survived, but on Wednesday a neurologist said Ms. Yousafzai was in critical condition at a hospital in Peshawar, though doctors had been able to remove a bullet. Arrangements have been made to send Ms. Yousafzai abroad for treatment, but she could not be moved for now. The two other wounded girls were reported to be in stable condition.

A Taliban spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan, confirmed by phone Tuesday that Ms. Yousafzai had been the target, calling her crusade for education rights an “obscenity.” Mr. Ehsan added that if she survived, the militants would certainly try to kill her again. “Let this be a lesson.” That Ms. Yousafzai’s voice could be deemed a threat to the Taliban, that they could see the young schoolgirl’s death as desirable and justifiable, is being seen as evidence of both the militants’ brutality and her courage.

Ms. Yousafzai first came to public attention in 2009, when the Pakistani Taliban swept through Swat, a picturesque valley once famed for its music, tolerance and honeymoon destinations. Her father ran one of the last schools to defy Taliban orders to end female education. As an 11-year-old, Malala wrote an anonymous blog documenting her experiences for the BBC. Later, she was the focus of documentaries by The New York Times and other media outlets. “I had a terrible dream yesterday with military helicopters and the Taliban,” she wrote in one blog post titled “I Am Afraid.”

A government reward of more than $100,000 has been announced by the provincial information minister for information leading to the arrest of Malala’s attackers. “Whoever has done it is not a human and does not have a human soul,” he said. Across the rest of the country, Pakistanis reacted with outrage to the attack on Malala, whose eloquent and determined advocacy of education for girls had made her a powerful symbol of resistance to Taliban ideology.

Read more about young Malala Yousafzai in The New York Times here.

Documentary About Malala Yousafzai, Pakistani Girl Shot by the Taliban: Class Dismissed

Shot by the Taliban, Young Malala Yousafzai Struggles for Life

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A Soldier’s Heart: Let There Be Light

A Soldier’s Heart: Let There Be Light

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is the invisible wound that scars war veterans, and some individuals are so afflicted that they die physically or psychologically from this traumatic wound through suicide, homicide or incurable psychosis. In 2012, this disorder is recognized and understood in ways it never was before, making it more possible for traumatized men and women to get the help they need. However, war-related PTSD certainly isn’t new, and when the 20th century and its technological might ushered in massively brutal, worldwide conflicts that buried forever idea of a “gentleman’s war,” it also drastically increased the psychological pressures on combat troops. Motion pictures have been used to document the many aspects of war. Over the years, the United States government has commissioned a number of documentaries that look at soldiers returning from theaters of war, as they attempt to reintegrate into the society they left behind.

Perhaps the most famous documentary about returning soldiers is the 1946 film Let There Be Light by the acclaimed filmmaker John Huston, who considered the film to be one of his best movies. However, its fame derives mainly from being kept hidden for 35 years after it was made, by a War Department uncomfortable with the notion that there is any lasting downside to war for the returning veteran. The War Department was so uneasy about this documentary that it had the film remade as Shades of Gray, a propaganda docudrama based on Let There Be Light, which not only eliminated African-American soldiers from the cast, but also suggested that only soldiers who were disturbed before they went to war broke down upon their return.

Film history isn’t the only context in which to appreciate Huston’s hour-long documentary, his third and final film for the Army Signal Corps. Let There Be Light is also one of the earliest commercial depictions of psychotherapy, in this case the military’s use of it to treat what we now call Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The U.S. military now offers a wide array of pre- and post-battle therapies to help soldiers recover from traumatic experiences. In contrast, Let There Be Light’s gruff doctors, who inject sodium amytal and conduct religious group therapy sessions, look prehistoric by comparison.

Nevertheless, Let There Be Light, like its routinely under-appreciated 1946 fictional counterpart, The Best Years of Our Lives, remains essential viewing. Each of the films conveys a sense of compassion toward soldiers; the soldiers presented in these films don’t ask to be called heroes, they only want normalcy. Today’s returning soldiers surely feel the same, and yet their experiences on the battlefield are increasingly abnormal, even unknown, to most people they encounter upon returning.

Seven months after the War Department forcibly prevented Let There Be Light from premiering at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art, a disabled Army veteran named Harold Russell became the only man to win two Oscars for the same performance. Russell received the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and an Honorary Award for Nonprofessional aActing for his role as a returned soldier in The Best Years of Our Lives. William Wyler’s 168-minute drama concerns the homecomings of three soldiers, and it was showered with awards throughout the winter and spring of 1947, including a Best Picture Oscar and multiple Golden Globes and New York Film Critics Circle citations.

The Best Years of Our Lives and Let There Be Light aren’t cynical or judgmental of American society, but are quietly brave and emotionally devastating. Let There Be Light attempts to shield us with its preentation of hospital interiors that are clean, orderly and positively overstaffed. Nonetheless, the men and their stories are unforgettable. You finish watching the film feeling emotionally drained and deeply grateful that they won’t have to fight again.

To commemorate this past Memorial Day, the National Film Preservation Foundation premiered the film on its website and will run the film through the end of August.

A Soldier’s Heart: Let There Be Light

The Best Years of Our Lives

Read more about Let There Be Light in The Morning News here.

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The Studs Terkel Centenary: Chicago Celebrates Legendary Studs Terkel

The Studs Terkel Centenary: Chicago Celebrates Legendary Studs Terkel

May 16th marks the 100th anniversary of Studs Terkel’s birth and an occasion to memorialize one of the most prolific writers and cultural critics in the history of Chicago letters. As an author, broadcaster and oral historian, legendary Chicagoan Studs Terkel celebrated the lives of ordinary Americans. Some of Terkel’s many friends and fans are hoping to return the favor with a series of events marking the 100th birthday of a man whose work is a chronicle of the 20th century.

The Studs Terkel Centenary, a group headed up by Terkel’s friends, including Chicago Tribune reporter Rick Kogan, on Saturday will rededicate the Division Street Bridge, which was named after Terkel 20 years ago. On Wednesday, The Newberry Library will host a birthday party featuring guest speakers who will share stories about Studs. Terkel’s friends will ensure that his memory lives on with a day of Studs-only programming on WFMT-FM on his birthday, with performances of passages from Terkel’s 2001 book Will the Circle Be Unbroken? at Steppenwolf Theatre next week and by phoning in personal anecdotes about Terkel to a hotline set up by Chicago’s Hull House Museum.

A Tribute: Remembering Studs Terkel

Studs Terkel: The Human Voice (StoryCorps)

Remembering Studs Terkel: Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

The New York Times reported that Chicago’s legendary Studs Terkel, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author whose searching interviews with ordinary Americans helped establish oral history as a serious genre, and who for decades was the enthusiastic host of a popular nationally syndicated radio show on WFMT-FM in Chicago, died at his home at the age of 96.

In his oral histories, which he called guerrilla journalism, Mr. Terkel relied on his effusive but gentle interviewing style to bring forth in rich detail the experiences and thoughts of his fellow citizens. For more than the four decades, Studs produced a continuous narrative of great historic moments sounded by an American chorus in the native vernacular.

Division Street: America (1966), his first best seller, explored the urban conflicts of the 1960s. Its success led to Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression (1970) and Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do (1974).

Mr. Terkel’s book The Good War: An Oral History of World War II won the 1985 Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction. In Talking to Myself: A Memoir of My Times (1977), Terkel turned the microphone on himself to produce an engaging memoir. In Race: How Blacks and Whites Think and Feel About the American Obsession (1992) and Coming of Age: The Story of Our Century by Those Who’ve Lived It (1995), he reached for his ever-present tape recorder for interviews on race relations in the United States and the experience of growing old.

In 1985, a reviewer for The Financial Times of London characterized his books as “completely free of sociological claptrap, armchair revisionism and academic moralizing.” The amiable Mr. Terkel was a gifted and seemingly tireless interviewer who elicited provocative insights and colorful, detailed personal histories from a broad mix of people. “The thing I’m able to do, I guess, is break down walls,” he once told an interviewer. “If they think you’re listening, they’ll talk. It’s more of a conversation than an interview.”

Readers of his books could only guess at Mr. Terkel’s interview style. Listeners to his daily radio show, which was first broadcast on WFMT-FM in 1958, got the full flavor as Studs, with both breathy eagerness and a tough-guy Chicago accent, went after the straight dope from guests like Sir Georg Solti, Muhammed Ali, Mahalia Jackson, the young Dob Dylan, Toni Morrison and Gloria Steinem.

The entire New York Times article can be read here.

Rick Kogan has written a detailed article in The Chicago Tribune, which can be read here.

Studs Terkel’s website at The Chicago Historical Society can be accessed here.

Studs Terkel’s (1970) WFMT-FM radio interview with me (Patrick Zimmerman) can be heard here. Parts of this radio interview later become a selection (pp. 489-493) in Terkel’s acclaimed book, Working:

Audio: Part I of The Radio Interview

Audio: Part II of The Radio Interview

Studs Terkel: Remembering His Life and Times

Conversations about Studs Terkel (2004)

Studs Terkel: About the Human Spirit (2002)

Studs Terkel: The Pioneering Broadcaster

Music Audio: Mavis Staples/Hard Times

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