A film by Christopher Nupen and his Allegro Films team which investigates the fruitful but complex relationship between the Jews and German music.
The title, We Want The Light!, is taken from a poem by a 12-year-old girl, Eva Pickova, written in the Theresienstadt concentration camp. Her words also provide the climax of the film – in a setting for two choruses and orchestra by the composer Franz Waxman, in his work The Song of Terezin.
.".. even in the very, very difficult times music made me really happy"
Alice Sommer Herz.
It is a film about many things. It is about freedom and captivity, about emancipation, acculturation and assimilation; it is about the roles played by Moses and Felix Mendelssohn in the dream of fruitful, unproblematic integration of the Jews into German society after their liberation from the ghettos; it is about Richard Wagner, his ferociously anti-Semitic essay Das Judenthum in der Musik ("Judaism in Music") and his influence on the thinking of the Third Reich but, most of all, it is a film about how much music can mean to people, even in the direst of circumstances, or particularly in the direst of circumstances.
The film ends with the telling testimonies of three concentration camp survivors, chief among them Alice Sommer Herz, born in 1903 and who played more than 100 concerts in the Theresienstadt camp. Many people find her deeply inspiring, not just because she has survived in incredibly good shape (she practises the piano for two and a half hours every day), it is her quiet dignity and her courage in the face of appalling suffering that touches people. She lost her husband in Dachau six weeks before the end of the war and has also had to bear the loss of her son, a fine cellist named Raphael Sommer, who was with her in the concentration camp from the age of six.
Amazingly, it is not the suffering and the tragedy that shine through her testimony but the depth of her perception, her understanding, her faith in music and her extraordinary wisdom. Alice Sommer Herz says that she has never hated and never will. She says also that she is an optimist and that these two things together explain her longevity. Her dearly loved twin sister was a pessimist, she says, which is why she died at the age of 70, "Of this I am sure. If you are a pessimist the whole organism is in a tension all the time." She adds that she is an optimist in all things except one, "People don't learn," she says. "They don't learn."