Producer Nick Reed’s 38-minute film following Alice Herz-Sommer, The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life, won Best Short Documentary at the Oscars  last night.

Sophie Eastaugh spoke with Nick last week about filming with the world’s oldest Holocaust survivor and the lessons we can all learn from Alice’s incredible life.[divider]

“In my last conversation with Alice, she said to me that I had to mentor more young people, that it was our job to share our experiences with the younger generation.”
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Nick Reed with Alice during filming of The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life.

Jewish News: Does it make it more important to you that you win your category on Sunday, now that Alice has passed away?

Nick Reed: When we realised that she wasn’t just a great woman, she was a spectacular woman; the dream for all of us was to make this the most-seen short film in the history of the world!

We think that it connects to everybody – we want everyone to see the film because there are messages in there for everybody. If we’re lucky enough to win an Oscar, the whole world will know for a few seconds about this incredible lady.

The fact that we’ve captured her at her best and brought you a story that shows the world how special she is – we just feel incredibly proud.

Jewish News: What was it like filming with such an inspirational person?

Nick: Every time we left, we all felt like we weren’t worthy. In my last conversation with Alice, she said to me that I had to mentor more young people, that it was our job to share our experiences with the younger generation.

I realised that it’s also our job to seek out the older generation and take from them their wisdom. She made you feel “I need to be a better person; I need to do more good things”. Each time we learnt more about her journey she became more incredible.

She’s one of those people that you just instantly loved when you saw her because she was interested in you.

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A screenshot of the film, with Alice’s piano in the background.

Jewish News: Was Alice excited about The Lady in Number 6 being nominated for an Oscar?

Nick: Alice takes everything in her stride. I’m sure she was very happy but she’s quite selfless, so the fact that someone’s made a movie about her…she doesn’t see it the way most people would see it.

When she talks to you and gives you some advice or thoughts, it’s never about her. One of her great skills that she’s given me is to not stress about anything. If something happens, it happens for the right reasons. If we told her we’d won an Oscar for a film about her life, she’d probably look at you and give you a big smile.

Jewish News: You must have gotten to know her very well during filming.

Nick: Yes, yesterday morning all of us were in shock because we just never thought she would ever go! She had been sick a few times after we’d filmed her and she’d gotten better. Every time you spoke to her, even though her energy was getting less, her spirit was always burning bright. We had almost got to the point where we thought she was never going to go.

Jewish News: Did it surprise you to meet someone so positive who had survived the atrocities of the Holocaust?

Nick: If you see the film, you realise it’s the way this lady’s brain processes the world that made her a survivor. Her other two friends in the film (Anita Lasker and Zdenker Fantlová), also Holocaust survivors, had that same attitude. They were always looking for the positive.

The one other thing that I got from Alice was: We’re all born with a certain amount of energy. Spend some of that energy hating somebody or being stressed, than that energy is being taken away from our lives. If we take all our energy and put it towards good things, we’ll all live longer and happier. Alice was able to think of music and make herself happy.

“The fact that we’ve captured her at her best and brought you a story that shows the world how special she is – we feel incredibly proud.”

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Jewish News: What message do you think we can take from Alice’s life?

Alice Herz Sommer teaching in Israel

Alice Herz-Sommer teaching piano in Israel

Nick: At the end of the film, the question becomes, “What is important in life?” There is a billion dollar book industry selling you books, telling you how to be happy. These three ladies all have one thing in common – what they call “second lives” – they didn’t die in the Holocaust.

For them, only a few things matter: your health, your family and human relationships. Every day is a gift and when they hear people complaining, whining, saying they’re bored – these are things they can’t understand.

Jewish News: Are you going to be at the ceremony on Sunday?

Nick: Yes, we will be. With everything that’s happened over the last 24 hours with Alice though, I haven’t really thought about it.[divider]

Watch an 11 minute extract of The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life:

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