Byline: DAVID COHEN
NATALIA Karpf walks slowly towards her Steinway grand piano in the corner of her London drawing room.
It takes just six paces for this graceful 93- year- old Auschwitz survivor to cover the distance, but with each step, she traverses a decade back in time. She positions her stool and, after the briefest of pauses, begins to play Chopin's Nocturne in C-sharp minor.
Suddenly, the room is awash with notes, gentle and sad beyond words.
In Natalia's half-shut eyes, I can see that she is far away - transported, she will later tell me - to the day this very piece saved her from execution in a Nazi concentration camp.
It was 9 December, 1943. Natalia, then 32 and exceptionally beautiful, and her sister, Helena, had been captured by the Gestapo trying to escape Poland and had been sent to Plaszow - the concentration camp featured in the film Schindler's List - where they were to be executed. But as luck would have it, they arrived on the birthday of Amon Goeth, the murderous camp commandant.
When Goeth was told that a virtuoso Jewish concert pianist known by her maiden name as Natalia Weissman - once a soloist with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra - had arrived, he demanded she play at his party before her execution the next morning.
"I remember every detail about that night," recalls Natalia, shuddering visibly. "I was taken to his villa where there was a party with many guests eating, drinking and dressed in white jackets. After a while, Goeth turned to me and barked: "Now!
Sarah! Play now!" The Nazis called all Jewish women Sarah. I was shaking with fear. I hadn't played piano for four years. I was terrified my fingers would be stiff."
Natalia chose to play Chopin's Nocturne …