The Piano Helped Her Survive the Holocaust

The Fellowship  |  January 11, 2019

Of the many stories of survival we hear from those who made it through the Holocaust, there is usually a unique reason why each survivor survived while six million other Jews were murdered. Writing at The Times of Israel, JTA‘s Cnaan Liphshiz tells us the story of Nelly Ben-Or, a pianist who risked everything for her music, but whose music helped her live:

Like countless world-class pianists, Nelly Ben-Or began playing piano at the age of 5 and never stopped.

That discipline helped Ben-Or, now 86, become an international concert pianist and the person most widely recognized for adapting the Alexander technique for posture and movement improvement for musicians.

But unlike most of her peers, much of Ben-Or’s musical training in her native Poland took place while her family was hiding in Nazi-occupied Warsaw, where her mother, Antonina Podhoretz, time and again risked everything to afford her daughter access to the then scarce instrument…

The instrument features in Ben-Or’s earliest memories, from her childhood home in Lwow, which was part of Poland before World War II, now Lviv in Ukraine. She recalls that at 6, German soldiers carried off the piano on which she had practiced in her family’s living room.

“I shivered in fear and despair, huddled against my mother’s body as I watched them taking away the instrument which had become for me such a wonderful source of magic,” Ben-Or writes.

Her family was about to lose much more than their prized possessions.

Ben-Or’s father, Leon, was taken away and, she later learned, killed at the Janowska concentration camp

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