They Played For Their Lives



During their darkest hours, music provided hope and escape…the extraordinary story of eight musicians whose lives were saved by music.


Through intimate interviews and live performances, ‘They Played for Their Lives’ artfully portrays how music saved the lives of young musicians. Playing music in the ghettos and concentration camps not only fostered spiritual strength within themselves and others, but often proved a bargaining tool that spared their lives. The documentary follows the personal narratives of eight survivors. Chaim recounts how he saved his father from beatings, by teaching an SS officer to play the harmonica. Anita, who played cello in the Women’s Orchestra in Auschwitz, was spared inhumane forced labor. And little Hellmuth whistled with the band in exchange for extra food and clothing. Each of these unique stories illustrate the power of music to sustain the human soul. At the end of the war their lives unfold in surprising ways, yet music remains at the core of their memory and legacy. Charcoal illustrations, a live piano performance by 106-year old Alice, and a moving reunion of two boys who searched for each other for 66-years, make this compelling viewing.

Starring: Hellmuth Szprycer, Frank (Misa) Grunwald, Victor Aitay, Alice Herz-Sommer, Greta Klingsberg, 

Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, Chaim Refael, Alexander Tamir (Alek Wolkovsky) 

Director: Nurit Jugend and Aaron I. Butler




SPEAKER at Harkins Shea 14, on February 11 at 3pm:

Dr. Nurit Jugend.  Hellmuth Szprycer, the Whistling Survivor, will perform.


Dr. Jugend, Producer and Director, is a composer whose works have been published, performed and broadcast worldwide. She works internationally with leading orchestras and ensembles, such as the Israel Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta. Jugend lectures at Stanford University, national conferences across the US and international events.Dr. Jugend is the recipient of numerous prestigious awards, namely the Arturo Toscanini Foundation


Competition, Klon prize, Liebersohn award, Acum award, 2003-04 Giles Whiting Fellowship from the Humanities and Sciences at Stanford University and 2007 Summer Composers Residency at Banff Centre (Canada).