There is such an episode in Schindler’s List: a prisoner of the death camp plays Chopin’s nocturne at a celebration in honor of the commandant’s birthday, and he, subdued by the pianist’s art, agrees to save her life. This episode is based on real events: the famous Jewish pianist Natalya Karp was a prisoner who owed her life to Chopin’s nocturne.
During the war, she and her sister were in the Tarnow ghetto.
Escape seemed the only way out, and the sisters, along with two friends, planned to secretly get to Warsaw, and from there to flee to neighboring Slovakia. As a result, all four with false documents in their hands were captured by the Gestapo and sent to the Plaszow concentration camp, located not far from Krakow. The sisters were sentenced to death and left in a bunker until the execution of the sentence. How great was their surprise when the next morning Natalya was ordered to appear at the birthday of the camp commandant Amon Goeth. Among the prisoners of the camp, he was known for his inhuman cruelty – he had 10 thousand Jewish lives on his account. He was also an extraordinary admirer of classical music, and on his birthday, December 9, 1943, Natalia was ordered to give him a “musical surprise.”
“The hairdresser styled my hair,” Natalya recalled years later, “and I was taken from the bunker to the villa of commandant Goeta. When I was brought in, the holiday was already in full swing: smart guests were drinking wine and proclaiming toasts in honor of the hero of the occasion – the commandant, dressed in a white dress uniform. I was mortally afraid because I had not played the piano for almost four years – from the very beginning of the war. My fingers by that time were numb and almost did not bend, but I had to sit down at the instrument – this was the only chance to save my life!
Despite the merriment that reigned at the celebration, Natalia decided to play her favorite Chopin nocturne in C-sharp minor, filled with deep sadness, which reflected the state of her soul. “Whatever happens!” she decided ruefully.
“Come on, play, Sarah,” Goth commanded.
“Sarah” is what the Nazis called Jewish women. Starting to play, Natalia implicitly expected that Göth would pull out a gun and shoot her. But having played to the end, she heard Goth casually say in the silence that reigned, pointing in her direction:
She will live!
Hearing these words, Natalya, emboldened, asked:
- And my sister?
“She too,” the commandant agreed reluctantly.
Since then, the sisters considered this day – December 9, 1943 – the new day of their birth, because they miraculously managed to stay alive.
In the 1950s, Natalya Karp successfully toured Europe with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. She also came to Germany with concerts. Over the next 20 years she gave hundreds of BBC concerts with the London Symphony Orchestra.
In 1967, Oskar Schindler, the savior of the Krakow Jews, was awarded the Martin Buber Prize. Although Natalia was not on Schindler’s list, she was invited to the ceremony. She played the same nocturne that saved her life – C sharp minor. She went up on stage, as always – in a dress with short sleeves, revealing the number “A27407” on her arm – so that everyone would remember and know that she managed to survive in spite of everything.