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They Played
for Their

During their darkest hours, music provided hope and escape. A documentary film about the extraordinary story of eight Jewish musicians whose lives were saved by music.












jcc chicago



Donald M. Ephraim

Palm Beach Jewish Film Festival







Through intimate interviews and live performances, They Played for Their Lives artfully portrays how music saved the lives of young Jewish musicians. Playing music in the ghettos and concentration camps not only fostered spiritual strength within themselves and others, but often proved a bargaining tool that spared their lives. The documentary follows the personal narratives of eight survivors. Chaim recounts how he saved his father from beatings, by teaching an SS officer to play the harmonica. Anita, who played cello in the Women’s Orchestra in Auschwitz, was spared inhumane forced labor. And little Hellmuth whistled with the band in exchange for extra food and clothing. Each of these unique stories illustrate the power of music to sustain the human soul. At the end of the war their lives unfold in surprising ways, yet music remains at the core of their memory and legacy. Charcoal illustrations, a live piano performance by 106-year old Alice, and a moving reunion of two boys who searched for each other for 66-years, make this compelling viewing.


One of the more beautiful things about the movie is that it brings home the fact that music is a universal language and it can unite people, despite differences. “Anyone can speak the language of music…musicians from China and Israel can make music together,” says Jugend. “One goal of making the movie was to preserve history and to keep the conversation going about the Holocaust. I hope it helps us to develop more tolerance. Even if people are not like us, we can still make music together with harmony. That’s a very powerful message.”

Woodstock Times Review

Unlike many Holocaust films, “They Played for their Lives” is not a lament but a celebration of music and life. It is a film about reunions and the mysterious ability of music to forge unbreakable bonds.

JP Updates Review

What an incredibly and moving film... you left the audience inspired.

Charlie Junkerman, Dean of Continuing Studies, Stanford University

Your documentary takes one of the darkest subjects in the last 100 years of human history and transforms it into sacred and joyous triumph.

Jill Woolworth, Stanford Distinguished Careers Institute, 2017

What an extraordinary movie… a moving tribute to all the survivors!

Francine Gani

This Millennial generation should view this film!

Ted M. Kahn, Ph.D.

The audience was all eyes and ears...your audience was deeply moved and inspired by the documentary, an effect only skilful and thoughtful work can achieve.

Regina Casper, M.D.

The Jewish mystics well understood that music takes us to a higher level of spirituality than the spoken word. This incredible film does just that. It is an incredible testimony of the power of music when combined with the Jewish soul in the most horrific situation. I found myself crying tears of joy at least five times in this movie. I was crying not only in reaction to the story, but also because through their lives and their music, these amazing survivors challenge us to affirm "Am Yisrael Chai - The Jewish People live!" This movie is a must see, for it is both a verification of Jewish continuity as well as a testimony to the strength which music brings to the human spirit!

Rabbi Fred Guttman Temple Emanuel Greensboro, North Carolina

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