The old woman lifted the cup of tea to her lips with difficulty. She sipped with care and then held the cup in her lap and waited for the next question. She did not try to hide either her disfigured hand or the tattoo on her inner right arm.
“Did you know about the piano player before you were sent to the Camps?” the man asked.
“We all did,” she replied with a smile. “He was the next Chopin. All of Poland knew of his greatness. And at only nine years of age!”
“So, how did it happen that you were not gassed?”
“Ah, yes,” she said, sipping her tea. “Why me? Out of all the others.”
The man waited for her answer. He knew enough not to rush her.
“It was because I mended his coat, you see,” she answered. “I was spared from death when I arrived at the Camp because I was a skilled seamstress. I would not have lasted long, regardless, but I was given his coat which was torn.” She paused and then added, “There was something about my work that intrigued him. He asked to meet me.”
“So, the Nazis knew all along who he was and were catering to his needs. Is that what you are saying?” the man asked.
“Oh, yes, they knew who he was and how great he was. They were not about to murder the greatest pianist since Chopin. He was to be protected and nourished. And I was chosen, out of all the others, to assist him.” She paused, leaned back in her chair, and winced with pain. Then she continued and said, “He wanted to see my right hand, you see. He thought the hand that had done such a marvelous job of stitching his torn coat must be just what he needed.”
“And what was that?” the man asked.
“Why, his music page turner, of course,” she said, the smile returning to her face.
“So, I assume you got better food, were bathed regularly, got better clothing and helped him perform. Is that correct?” he asked.
“Yes, we performed for the Camp command staff often, sometimes for the S.S. guards, and once even for Himmler when he visited. Never for the inmates, never,” she replied. “He said that my hand turning the pages of his music was like an angel from above. It gave him strength and purpose, he told me. . . and then we were liberated.”
“And you stayed together and found yourself in London in the late 1940’s.” the man pointed out.
“Yes, and he became famous and performed worldwide for the next thirty-seven years. And I was with him daily, rehearsing with him, assisting his performances, and providing support at all times. It was marvelous for both of us,” she explained.
“But then something happened. Is that correct?” the man asked, a look of concern coming over him as he glanced down at her right hand.
“Yes. I found out, quite by accident, that I had been chosen from hundreds of young women to be his page turner. And that my two sisters were among those others.”
The man looked at her and asked, “And he knew what would happen to those who weren’t chosen?”
“Yes, he knew, and yet kept looking until he found me.”
The man breathed in deeply and said, “What did you do when you found out?”
The old woman held up her right hand and said in a strong voice, “I went to his liquor cabinet late one night, poured his brandy over this hand and lit it on fire.”
The man said nothing but waited for her to continue.
“And from that point on, his career was over,” she said. “He had become so dependent upon me and my hand for his success that without it he couldn’t perform.”
The man interjected. “So, you robbed him of the one thing that made his life meaningful?”
“As he did to me,” she concluded, resting her disfigured hand in her lap once more.