The opening showing of my pre-Oscar night nominated shorts marathon was 10:35 Sunday morning. I was one of half-a-dozen people nestled in IFC’s coziest screening room to view "The Lady in No.6," which enhanced my experience falling in love with the documentary’s then 109 year-old subject, Alice Herz-Sommer.
Born in Prague in 1903 with a passion for piano, she studied at the Prague Conservatory, became an acclaimed pianist and performed regularly until the German occupation in WWII. Married, with a young son Rafael, Alice's entire family was sent to concentration camps; she and Rafael were the only ones to survive. Her captors saw Alice’s talents as an opportunity for use in Theresienstadt Nazi propaganda videos. Music, literally, saved her life.
Alice was also sustained by nurturing her son in the camps. In spite of her tragedy, she looks back on her experience with gratitude, explaining she has lived a richer life with perspective, blessed to appreciate simple joys.
Rafael, a cellist, died of a heart attack in 2001 at 64. “His birth was the happiest day of my life, and his death was the worst thing that happened to me,” she notes, but manages to find a bright spot even here. “I am grateful at least that he did not suffer when he died. And I still watch my son play, on television. He lives on.” Still, she lived on without bitterness.
When I got home, I was stunned to read that my newfound mentor had died just that morning hours before I had seen the film. At 110, she was thought to be the oldest survivor of the Holocaust.
In a way, art has “saved” Alice’s life again, or at least preserved her story so she can tell it to us again and again, very much alive, in this unforgettable documentary.
“The Lady in No. 6” is directed by Oscar-winning filmmaker Malcolm Clarke. Herz-Sommer is also the subject of Caroline Stoessinger’s “A Century of Wisdom: Lessons from the Life of Alice Herz-Sommer, the World's Oldest Living Holocaust Survivor” (2012).
Amy Cohen is an award-winning creativity specialist. She works as an interdisciplinary artist, educator and consultant to corporations and other institutions,