The Oscars are a much anticipated event every year (at least for me) and I made sure to watch along with millions of people across the country. I fully enjoyed Ellen and her antics which included ordering pizza for starving actresses in fitted gowns with plunging necklines, record breaking selfies, and a good helping of Liza Minnelli jokes. I especially was excited for Idina Menzel’s live performance of “Let it Go” from Disney’s Frozen (and thought she did quite well despite John Travolta’s embarrassing introduction flub). However through all the glitz and glamour, what I took away from the show was a movie I was determined to see – The Lady in Number 6 by Malcom Clarke. I had never heard of the title before it won this year’s Best Documentary, but the trailer was so alluring I immediately went to Google to find out more information.
Based on the life of Alice Herz-Sommer, who up until her death on February 23 was the oldest known Holocaust survivor at 110 years old, it’s a film about life, hope, and how music can save your life. In July 1943, Alice was sent to the concentration camp in Theresienstadt after revealing to the Nazis that she played piano. It was designed as a model Jewish settlement to fool the Western Allies into thinking the prisoners were well cared for and featured many cultural activities including art and music. Theresienstadt was also used as the location of a Nazi propaganda film, although it was never widely distributed. Throughout her stay, Alice performed over 100 concerts from memory featuring her favorite composers – Schubert, Schumann, Bach, Beethoven and Chopin. Despite all of the horrors and despair that surrounded her during those years, Alice remained positive and hopeful. She never lost faith in humanity. She used music as her mental escape and didn’t allow the despicable actions of those around her to poison her spirit.
Although I have still not had the chance to see the film, I am looking forward to putting an hour aside in the near future to curl up on the couch and get to know her full story. I strongly suggest you watch this short clip by Nicholas Reed, the film’s Producer, to see a glimpse of her sweet and infectious personality.
Consider teaching your students about Alice, The Lady in Number 6, and bring her inspiring message to life by including a visit to Theresienstadt to your next performance tour.