Private Project

They Played For Their Lives

Through intimate interviews and live performances, ‘They Played for Their Lives’ artfully portrays how music saved the lives of young 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.

  • Dr. Nurit Jugend, Aaron I. Butler
  • Dr. Nurit Jugend, Aaron I. Butler
  • Aaron I. Butler
  • Alice Herz-Sommer, Hellmuth Spriczer, Viktori Aitay, Alexander Tamir, Chaim Rafael, Greta Klingsberg, Anita Lasker-Wallfisch
    Key Cast
  • Ari Binus
  • Project Type:
  • Runtime:
    52 minutes 30 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    August 1, 2016
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Language:
    English, Hebrew
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • Woodstock Film Festival
    United States
    October 15, 2016
    world premier
  • Museum of Tolerance
    Los Angeles
    United States
    January 26, 2017
  • Holcoaust Memorial Day
    April 23, 2017
    United States
    April 10, 2017
  • Phoenix Arizona Jewish Film Festival
    Phoenix Arizona
    United States
    February 7, 2018
    Arizona premier
Director Biography - Dr. Nurit Jugend, Aaron I. Butler

Aaron I. Butler is an Emmy winning and Eddie nominated editor and producer. His previous projects include the HBO documentary feature CRIES FROM SYRIA which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, the Emmy winning documentary OUT OF IRAQ, the Emmy nominated documentary series THE SIXTIES, the IDA award winning Showtime documentary series TIME OF DEATH, the Emmy and Eddie nominated HBO documentary AMERICAN WINTER, and the Emmy nominated documentary series THE RISE AND FALL OF JIM CROW. His feature work includes IN DUBIOUS BATTLE which premiered at the Venice Film Festival and was directed by James Franco, and I AM MICHAEL which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and was executive produced by Gus Van Sant.

Add Director Biography
Director Statement

My guiding principle as a storyteller has always been to find the most important and impactful stories and help bring them to life. When my Co-Director Nurit Jugend brought They Played for Their Lives to me, I instantly knew this was a project I wanted to be involved with. It wasn’t just another Holocaust movie, it was a story about the power and importance of music to humanity, against the backdrop of one of history’s darkest moments. But most importantly, it was a film about the power of hope, a story that leaves the audiences filled with love and inspiration, and gives them a deeper understanding of what it means to be human.