Monday, July 16, 2007

Finding Inspiration in the Lives of Others

Natalia Karp, a concert pianist who was spared from execution during the Holocaust after playing at a party for the commandant of a German concentration camp, died July 9, British news outlets reported. She was 96.

She arrived at the camp with her sister Dec. 9, 1943, and expected to be shot when she was summoned to appear at the birthday party of Amon Goeth, the murderous commandant of the Plaszow work camp in Poland.

Instead, he commanded her to perform.

"I had not played since 1939, and my fingers were stiff," Karp told the Independent of London in 2005.

"The guests were all looking at me, and Goeth called me 'Sarah' — the Nazis called all Jewish women Sarah — and told me to 'play now.'

"I sat down and started to play Chopin's Nocturne because I have always found it very sad," Karp said.

When she finished the melancholy Nocturne in C-sharp minor, Goeth declared, "Sie soll leben" — she shall live. She replied, "Not without my sister." Goeth complied.

Liberated the day after V-E Day in 1945, Karp and her sister made their way home to Krakow, Poland. On Polish radio, Karp gave her first major postwar performance in 1946.

She was born Natalia Weissman on Feb. 27, 1911, in Krakow to a wealthy industrialist and his wife, who sang opera arias around the house. At 4, she started playing the piano by ear, and her grandfather sent her to Berlin at 15 to study under pianist Arthur Schnabel.

She went on to a career as a concert pianist and performed into her 90s. Karp was well-known in Britain and performed with the London Philharmonic and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, among others.

When playing, Karp often placed a pink handkerchief on the piano. To her, the slight piece of fabric purchased for a few pennies in Warsaw after the war symbolized a luxury and femininity that she could only dream of while in the concentration camps.

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