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Zuzana Ruzickova -- the Holocaust Survivor who Brought Back Bach

Renee Eder on Tuesday, October 23, 2018

I remember learning about the Holocaust as a child. I asked my mother and grandparents questions, as I was inquisitive and curious. I always wondered how some people could have survived the horrific conditions in the concentration camps. Reading about Zuzana Ruzickova today brought these memories back for me, and helped answer some of these questions.


Zuzana Ruzickova survived the gas chambers, devastating disease, slave labor, and crippling hand injuries in Nazi concentration camps to become one of the world’s most renowned harpsichordists and a leading interpreter of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.

Ms. Ruzickova was born in Bohemia and was the daughter of a prosperous Jewish family. She always loved music and was very talented, so her teacher recommended that the harpsichordist Wanda Landowska, who lived near Paris, take her as a student — that prospect was dashed by the German occupation. When she was 15, her family received what the Germans called “an invitation” to Terezin, which the Nazis considered a model concentration camp for the cultural elite. Her grandparents and father died of disease there.

Within six months, she and her mother were shipped to Auschwitz in German-occupied Poland, where she survived the gas chamber twice — first after lying about her age, and then when the camp’s routine was upset by the Allied invasion on D-Day.

Zuzana credits music with her drive to persevere and survive the concentration camps. According to Zuzana, “I was not a strong child, but I was in love with music from the beginning." With her hands badly damaged during the war, she practiced 12 hours a day to catch up after it was over. She attended the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague from 1947 to 1951, when she gave her first harpsichord recital.

Since then, she has made more than 100 recordings. Her monumental project of recording Bach’s complete keyboard works took a decade, starting in 1965. She stopped performing publicly in 2006.

Zuzana believed up until the day she died last September, at the age of 90 from pneumonia, that “Bach provides a sense of order in a world of disorder." A documentary was made about her by Peter Getzels and Harriet Gordon, titled “Zuzana: Music Is Life," which will be shown at Beth El Hebrew Congregation in Alexandria on Wednesday, October 31.

If you want to learn more about Zuzana's fascinating life and enjoy a wonderful film, bagels, and a presentation from the filmmakers, we hope you can join us! Twice voted Best Documentary at the Washington and LA Jewish Film Festivals, "Zuzana: Music is Life" speaks to the healing power of music, and living for a higher purpose when brutality abounds.

The film will be followed by a Q&A session with the filmmakers. The fee is $10 for all participants (includes movie, presentation, and bagels and cream cheese). Learn more about the film and how to register here: https://bit.ly/2EAnfy4 

 

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