A woman whose talent at playing the cello helped spare her life at the Auschwitz death camp has picked up her instrument for the first time in more than a decade to score a new documentary being made for the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Poland.
Anita Lasker-Wallfisch recorded a cello solo for a 15-minute documentary called “Auschwitz,” that recounts the long history of the infamous Nazi German death camp located in Poland. The film was directed by Academy Award® winning documentarian James Moll and produced by Academy Award® winner Steven Spielberg in conjunction with USC Shoah Foundation – The Institute for Visual History and Education.
Lasker-Wallfisch’s grandson, award-winning Hollywood composer Benjamin Wallfisch, composed the original score for the film. Renowned composer Hans Zimmer produced the score and brought Wallfisch to the project.
When Zimmer initially tapped Wallfisch for the film, he was aware that Wallfisch’s grandmother had played cello when imprisoned at Auschwitz. Later, after multiple conversations about Lasker-Wallfisch and speculation about whether she might still be able to play, Zimmer, Wallfisch and Moll began to see the bigger picture, and considered the possibility of inviting her to participate. After conversations with her family, Lasker-Wallfisch agreed to lend her talent to the score. Throughout her lifetime as a musician she had always been a perfectionist, so the idea of playing without practicing for over a decade was unthinkable. But once the recording began, the result was staggering. Her gentle tone and musical gift was as present as ever.
Taking it even a step further, Anita’s son Raphael Wallfisch, himself a celebrated solo cellist, also agreed to play on the film score, involving three generations of a family that survived Auschwitz. As the film’s narrator Meryl Streep recites in the final moments of the film, “While the humanity of any one person can be extinguished, humanity itself cannot be. It endures.”
Lasker-Wallfisch was a teenager when she was taken to the German Nazi death camp in occupied Poland. Like most camps, Auschwitz at that time assembled orchestras made up of prisoners. With cellists hard to find, Lasker-Wallfisch was included in the Auschwitz orchestra, resulting in slightly better treatment for her than most of her fellow prisoners.
After the war, she become a founding member of the English Chamber Orchestra, but hasn’t played the cello for more than a decade. It was at her grandson’s urging that she agreed to play one last time.
“As a survivor of Auschwitz and as an accomplished cellist,” Moll said.
“Anita understands that music conveys emotions in ways that words cannot. To hear her creating music with both her son and grandson evokes a strong connection between the past and the present.”
“It was an incredible honor for me to be invited to be part of this project,” Benjamin Wallfisch said. “My grandmother Anita is truly the strongest person I know, and is a constant source of inspiration to all the family, both as an artist and also with her strength of spirit and warmth of heart. Music is something that has bound our family together through the generations and I feel extremely fortunate to have had this opportunity.”
Benjamin Wallfisch was at the official 70th anniversary commemoration at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum on Jan. 27 and performed with other musicians at a special event for survivors on January 26 hosted by the USC Shoah Foundation and World Jewish Congres. His grandmother did not attend the 70th anniversary event at Auschwitz-Birkenau, but she participated in a commemoration in London, where another musician grandson, Simon Wallfisch, performed.
“Auschwitz” debuted on Jan. 27 during the official 70th anniversary commemoration of the liberation of the Nazi German concentration and extermination camp, which was broadcast live on the museum’s website at http://auschwitz.org. Clips are available on the USC Shoah Foundation’s site at http://sfi.usc.edu.
About USC Shoah Foundation
USC Shoah Foundation — The Institute for Visual History and Education is dedicated to making audio- visual interviews with survivors and other witnesses of the Holocaust and other genocides, a compelling voice for education and action. The Institute’s current collection of 52,000 eyewitness testimonies contained within its Visual History Archive preserves history as told by the people who lived it, and lived through it. Housed at the University of Southern California, within the Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, the Institute works with partners around the world to advance scholarship and research, to provide resources and online tools for educators, and to disseminate the testimonies for educational purposes.
SOURCE USC Shoah Foundation