One Hundred Miracles: A Memoir of Music and Survival by Wendy Holden
Zuzana Ruzicková grew up in 1930s Czechoslovakia dreaming of two things: Johann Sebastian Bach and the piano. But her peaceful, melodic childhood was torn apart when, in 1939, the Nazis invaded. Uprooted from her home, transported from Auschwitz to Hamburg to Bergen-Belsen, bereaved, starved, and afflicted with crippling injuries to her musician’s hands, the teenage Zuzana faced a series of devastating losses. Yet with every truck and train ride, a small slip of paper printed with her favourite piece of Bach’s music became her talisman.
Armed with this ‘proof that beauty still existed’, Zuzana’s fierce bravery and passion ensured her survival of the greatest human atrocities of all time, and would continue to sustain her through the brutalities of post-war Communist rule. Harnessing her talent and dedication, and fortified by the love of her husband, the Czech composer Viktor Kalabis, Zuzana went on to become one of the twentieth century’s most renowned musicians and the first harpsichordist to record the entirety of Bach’s keyboard works.
Zuzana’s story, told here in her own words before her death in 2017, is a profound and powerful testimony of the horrors of the Holocaust, and a testament in itself to the importance of amplifying the voices of its survivors today. It is also a joyful celebration of art and resistance that defined the life of the ‘first lady of the harpsichord’- a woman who spent her life being ceaselessly reborn through her music. Like the music of her beloved Bach, Zuzana’s life is the story of the tragic transmuted through art into the state of the sublime.
In 2015 I reviewed Born Survivors (Bloomsbury) by Wendy Holden which told the story of three mothers and their newborn babies survived the horrors of the Holocaust and then 65 years later the three ‘babies’ met for the first time. A powerful story that has stayed with me to this day.
Wendy Holden the author of over 30 books now has released a memoir One Hundred Miracles: A Memoir of Music and Survival (Bloomsbury) the powerful memoir of Zuzana Ruzicková the Czech Harpsichordist who faced the horrors of the Nazis after they invaded her homeland.
It was March 1939 when the German troops arrived and soon after Zuzana and other young Jewish boys and girls were forced to act as ‘messengers’ delivering the dreadful letters that informed those families that they were to be transported away from their homes. Many already feared the worst. These letters were the final confirmation of what was to come. In October 1941 these transports to hell started and this included Zuzana and her own family. Life was never to be the same again. The family were sent to Auschwitz their fate was almost certain death and it was here that her father was murdered by the Nazis.
Zuzana and her mother survived the horror of Auschwitz only to be moved to hell that was Bergen Belsen Concentration Camp. By now they were barely surviving on next to nothing and the only way to survive from one day to another was to work in the camp by moving the dead to the ovens. By doing this it meant a little more food for her and her mother. From an early age Zuzana loved music and learnt to play the piano and throughout her time in the concentration camps she kept her music alive in her head. To be free and to play again.
It was a date that would live with Zuzana for the rest of her life. 15th April 1945 she was liberated from Belsen by the British Army. At this time Zuzana only weighed around four stone. But she had survived. All through these years and through the hell and horror of Auschwitz and Belsen she carried a piece of printed music paper with favourite J.S. Bach music on it.
The war was over but the suffering was not over as she now lived under the Soviets and the Communist regime. Zuzana went back to her music studies but only as per the Soviets perspective. From the pianist she switched to playing the Harpsichord after she met Victor Kalabis who would be her future husband. Now she could learn some of her favourite Bach pieces. Following this she became famous and performed all over the world for decades to come and also recorded over 100 albums. J.S. Bach had saved her life.
Wendy Holden conducted many interviews with Zuzana Ruzicková and two weeks after her final interview Zuzana passed away never to see her memoir published. The dedication in the book reads as follows: Dedicated by Zuzana to Johann Sebastian Bach whose music reminds us there is still beauty in this world.
Thank you to Bloomsbury Books UK for the review copy of One Hundred Miracles: A Memoir of Music and Survival by Wendy Holden
One Hundred Miracles: A Memoir of Music and Survival by Wendy Holden was published by Bloomsbury and was published on 18th April 2019 in Hardback and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.