Documentary Site started as an outlet for my interests in documentary 15 years ago. Since then, my presence has expanded to writing, managing Twitter fans, and connecting with makers, promoters, and fans of documentary. Probably three of the coolest things to come from this endeavor are being invited to write for POV, visiting Kartemquin studios, and leading a discussion after a screening of The Trials of Muhammad Ali. My current project involves watching and writing about 365 documentaries in 2014. Feel free to send along your suggestions via Twitter @documentarysite!

#365Docs: The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life (41/365)

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I’m watching 365 documentaries and writing about each one in 2014. Tweet your suggestions to @documentarysite, or send an e-mail to Read more.

Note: This post may contain spoilers.

The Lady in Number Six: Music Saved My Life is a documentary short about the world’s oldest Holocaust survivor and her passion for music.

Malcolm Clarke both directed and narrated this portrait of Alice Herz-Sommer, who at 109 had been playing the piano for more than a century. Every day at 10 a.m. she would play classical music such as Bach and Beethoven for several hours. Those living near her would stop and listen as she played.

Herz-Sommer’s love of music saw her through the tragedy and her survival of the Holocaust. As the troops took over Prague and imposed restrictions on people there, she continued to play music, even at the risk of death. She and her son Raphael were sent to Theresienstadt, where she played concerts from memory, including Chopin. According to Herz-Sommer, the music was not just about entertainment, but also about moral support for the people there.

After the war, she and her son moved to Israel, where he became a celebrated cellist who performed for more than 50 years but died suddenly at age 64.

Clarke develops the story with interviews and archival materials. At a couple points the voiceover detracted from the story, particularly with lines such as, “With the birth of her son, she had it all.” I longed to hear more from Herz-Sommers herself. But this short documentary still manages to capture Herz-Sommer’s amazing spirit and attitude toward life.

Herz-Sommer passed away at age 110 earlier this year. A few days later, this documentary won the Oscar for best documentary short.

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Heather McIntosh
Heather McIntosh
Heather McIntosh started Documentary Site as a resource for documentary media and has greatly enjoyed the connections it has fostered over the years.