Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, Cello player

Women’s orchestra in Auschwitz

On June 18 we met with cello player Anita Lasker Wallfisch who

was only 15 years old when she joined the women’s orchestra in

Auschwitz concentration camp and became their single cellist. 

Anita tells her story: “The cello really saved my life because to be

in this orchestra was a way of survival because as long as they

wanted music they would be very stupid to put us in the gas


In the photo above Alice is in conversation with her old friend 

Anita to talk about the meaning of music in their lives.


Alice Herz-Sommer, 107 years-old

Concert pianist in ghetto Terezin

      On June 17 we filmed 106 years-old concert pianist Alice Herz-

      Sommer who lives in her small apartment.  Alice, who performed over

      800 piano recitals in ghetto Terezin states: “They tore off our

      belongings, food and clothing but music is the one thing that they could

      not take away from us, music that evil could not destroy”.  Alice spoke

      of how music saved her life and honored us with an incredible

      performance on the piano of music byChopin.  In this rare occasion

      we captured an incredibly moving reunion of Alice with one of her

      former students, Greta Klingsberg, who studied with her the piano in

      Prague after their liberation.  Over the years, Alice and Greta

      remained good friends and shared their love of music from the




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© They Played for Their Lives, Hellmuth & Frank                                             

Reunion of two friends after 65 years

We have recently captured the most powerful and unforgettable reunion of Frank and Hellmuth, who have not seen one another since their liberation from Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in 1945.  Hellmuth and Frank revive extraordinary stories and memories of two young boys, who each in their own way found hope and comfort in music as a means to survive the unimaginable conditions that they faced at the Auschwitz-Birkenau family camp.

Frank Grunwald

We have successfully completed to capture the story of Frank who was 11 years old when he and his older brother John were sent to Auschwitz concentration camp. The brothers discovered how to use their body as musical instruments in absence of their piano and accordion. In ghetto Terezin and Auschwitz concentration camp they began to improvise together Jazz music and popular songs: “We loved it. We’d sing songs that we knew...It was a lot of fun, a mental escape, it was wonderful. Whenever you could create some music with yourself, even your own voice, it would be very relaxing, up-lifting…”

Hellmuth Spryczer, whistler

We have successfully completed to capture the story of Hellmuth who was only 13 years old when he whistled with the ‘ghetto Swingers’ Jazz band in Terezin. He became a child-star over night and was known as the ‘whistler from Terezienstadt’. Hellmuth continued to perform and whistle in Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp for high ranked SS officers such as Eichman Himmler and Mengele. Hellmuth tells the story of how music provided comfort to his friends and family under unbearable conditions and how music ultimately saved his life.

© They Played for Their Lives, photo: Rotem Yaron

Chaim Rafael

We have successfully completed to capture the story of 90-year-old Chaim Rafael, a survivor from Auschwitz concentration camp. Chaim owes his life to the harmonica: "One day I saw an SS guard trying to play the harmonica...I told him that I could show him how... The officer liked my playing, he brought me more warm soup and bread...he even ordered to stop the daily beatings of my father by the other guards...MUSIC SAVED OUR LIVES!"

Raphael Wallfisch, Cello player 2g

Son of Anita Wallfisch

A world acclaimed cellist and the son of Anita Lasker Wallfisch.  Our crew joined him in conversation about the meaning and significance of music in their family.

Amnon Weinstein, violin maker - Violins of Hope

'Violins of Hope' is a rare and unique collection of 18 violins

carefully restored by Israel violin maker Amnon Weinstein.

Each one of these violins is connected to the events of the

Holocaust, each one has its own identity and extraordinary

story of survival. Many of these violins are engraved front and

back with the star of David, indicating its makers faith. The

survival, restoration, and playing of these violins worldwide

creates the hope that Amnon's project stands for. Prior to the

war, these violins were mostly used for Klezmer playing, but

in the ghettos and concentration camps they played any

possible tune in order to keep their owners alive.


We have completed an extraordinary day of conversation

and music playing at Amnon's workshop in Tel-Aviv, Israel.

Our day included conversation between Amnon (right) and

conductor Yoel Levi (left - holding one of the survived violins)

about the meaning and importance of the survival, restoration and playing of these instruments.

We completed our day at Amnon's workshop with beautiful sounds of a survived violin from Auchwitz, played by violinist Hagai Shaham.

Alexander Tamir, song writer and pianist

As a young boy, Alek Wolkovsky was 11 years old when he

wrote the song 'Shtilar, Shtilar' (Ponar). Alek submitted his

song to a music competition in ghetto Vilna and one first prize.

The song was later translated to Yiddish and Hebrew. The

song quickly spread among people in the ghetto and became

the hymn and song of resistance in many of the ghettos

during the Holocaust as well as one of the better known

songs heard today during Yom Ha'Shoah memorials across

Israel. The song 'Shtilar, Shtilar' is a symbol of the Jewish

music and culture that arose during the Holocaust, and

which carried the torch of hope, strength and defiance.

Upon his arrival to Israel, Alex continued his piano education and together with Ms. Brach Eden z"l they formed one of the world's most acclaimed piano duo Eden-Tamir. 

Victor Aitay, 93-year-old violinist

Born in Hungary, Victor Aitay began to play the violin at the age of 6. During the

Holocaust, Victor survived several labor camps and a couple of attempts to escape.

In one particular occasion where Victor attempted to escape, music saved his life!

The judge at his trial, who learned about Victor's occupation as a musician, spared

his life due to his appreciation to music and musicians. 

photo: courtesy of Alex Tamir

photo: courtesy of Alex Tamir, Eden-Tamir piano Duo                                                    

© They Played for Their Lives, Alexander Tamir, pianist and song writer                                                            

© They Played for Their Lives, Hagai Shaham, violinist                                                                         

photo: courtesy of Amnon & Avshalom Weinstein

© They Played for Their Lives, Yoel Levi & Amnon Weinstein                                                                                  

Following the war and his survival, Victor was

determined more than ever to pursue a career

as a musician and fulfill his love for music.

Together with his wife (an Auschwitz survivor

herself), Victor immigrated to the US and settled

in Chicago. Victor joined the Chicago symphony

orchestra where he served as principal violinist

and collaborated with the greatest musicians

of all times.

photo: courtesy of Victor Aitay, Victor Aitay & wife     


photo: courtesy of Victor Aitay, Victor Aitay                     

© They Played for Their Lives, Hellmuth & Frank                                                                                                                 

© They Played for Their Lives, photo: Rotem Yaron                          

© They Played for Their Lives, Alice and Greta                                                 

© They Played for Their Lives, Anita and Alice                                                     


Brundibar children’s opera by Hans Krasa

On January 25-26, our Israeli crew - Leeronne Tamir, field producer and Rotem Yaron, cameraman filmed the general rehearsal and concert performance of the children’s opera - Brundibar by Hans Krasa.  Their mission included interviews with children and members of both the Israeli and German cast, the conductor - Naomi Faran and Greta Klingsberg, a survivor from the original cast.

The performance  was a collaborative production by the Moran Beit Yitzhak Children's Choir from Israel and the Gewandhaus Children's Choir from Leipzig, Germany with the 
Rishon Letzion Orchestra conducted by Naomi Faran.

Greta Klingsberg was 14 years old when she performed the role of ‘Aninka’ for over 50 
times in ghetto Terezin (circled in the original photo).

The plot of Brundibar tells the story of a boy and a girl who 
go out to the marketplace to sing in order to collect money 
for their sick mother.  Among the characters in the opera 
are a dog, cat and a bird, a hurdy-gurdy man, a school full 
of children and an ice cream vendor.  "On the stage those 
were hours of normalcy," says Klingsberg. "There we had everything children lacked in the ghetto: pets, ice cream, a large square, a school," she said.  "The death all around, seeing our little friends die, and the diseases, all these disappeared on stage and the characters of the dog and the cat and the bird persuaded us with their words that we had to continue to live, to sing.  This is the wonderful characteristic of children,their ability to create a world of their own."