Natalia Karp, the pianist who died on Monday aged 96, survived the Holocaust because the commandant of the Plaszow concentration camp in Poland, to which she was sent, wanted some musical entertainment for his birthday.
Summoned the day she arrived, expecting to be shot, Natalia, then a beautiful 32-year-old, played Chopin's haunting and melancholic Nocturne in C sharp minor. When she had finished, Amon Goeth, the commandant, declared: Sie soll leben (She shall live).
"I was taken to his villa where there was a party with many guests eating, drinking and dressed in white jackets," she recalled. "After a while, Goeth turned to me and barked: 'Now. Sarah. Play now'." (The Nazis called all Jewish women "Sarah").
At the time she had not touched a piano since the oubreak of war, and her fingers were almost stiff.
When Goeth, who was chillingly depicted by Ralph Fiennes in the film Schindler's List (1993), told Natalia that she would live, the pianist stood her ground, insisting that her sister Helena should also be spared. She was subsequently ordered to play for Goeth and other senior Nazis on several occasions.
But her ordeal was not over. After 10 months she was sent to Auschwitz, where she fully expected to die.
"My sister and I clung to each other. We scavenged for any food we could find. Every day we thought could be our last."
Her identity number - A27407 - was branded on to her forearm, and never disappeared. Many years later it was spotted by a guest at a reception in London who tactlessly asked: "What have you put here - your telephone number?"
Natalia was released from imprisonment the day after VE Day, and returned to Krakow with her sister, a ballerina.
When she gave her first post-war performance of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No 1, with its triumphant opening chords, she recalled thinking: "I wanted to show the Nazis that I was not beaten."
She was born Natalia Weissman in Krakow, Poland, on February 27 1911, the second of four children. Her father, Isidor, was a wealthy businessman; her mother sang opera arias at home.
Natalia's prowess as a pianist - she played by ear - was soon well known in the neighbourhood; one day, when she was four, a lady came to the door to say she had heard that there was a child prodigy in the house and offering to teach her.
Natalia disliked the pressure to give concerts, however, and later began to take lessons with Arthur Rubenstein's brother-in-law instead. In 1920 she played at a wedding in Berlin, where she was kissed by Boris Pasternak's mother.
When she was 15, Natalia's grandfather, also a gifted musician, decreed that she should return to Berlin, alone, to take lessons with Artur Schnabel. She recalled that the Austrian was "serious, cynical and funny". His son taught her harmony and theory.
Later she developed her technique with Georg Bertram, and at 18 played Chopin's E minor concerto with the Berlin Philharmonic under Heinz Bongartz. But when her mother died a few months later Natalia abandoned her career and returned to Krakow to take care of her family.
In 1933 she married Julius Hubler, a lawyer, pianist and music critic who was to be killed on the first day of the war when his train was bombed, though she did not learn of his death until some years later.
She was captured with two friends and her younger sister, Helena, as they tried to flee the Tarnow ghetto in Poland on false papers, and sent by the Gestapo to be shot at Plaszow.
After the war she met and married Josef Karpf, a counsellor at the Treasury in Warsaw. He was posted to the Polish Embassy in London, but when he was recalled in 1950 the couple stayed put, claiming asylum in Britain.
Gradually she resumed her performing career in Britain, though when she settled at Hampstead her neighbours would tolerate only two hours' practice in the morning so that she had to to go to friends' homes to get in a further three hours. It was during this time that she dropped the "f" from her name for professional purposes.
Although she could frequently be heard playing Beethoven and Schubert, Natalia Karp always had a special affection for the music of Chopin, whose music she played at the Wigmore Hall and other venues.
Her playing was described as "essentially feminine", with critics admiring her "mellow tone and intuitively musical phrasing", particularly in her compatriot's more intimately reflective pieces.
In 1967 she played for Oskar Schindler, whom she had not previously met, when he received the Martin Buber Prize. She also formed the Alpha Piano Trio with Regina Schein (cello) and Henriette Canter (violin).
When she played, Natalia Karp often placed a shell pink handkerchief on her piano as a symbol of luxury and femininity, something of which she had dreamed in the concentration camps and which, after her release, she had bought for a few pennies in Warsaw in 1946.
Natalia Karp never truly retired from public performance, although her pace did slow in later years.
In January 2005 she was the subject of a moving profile by David Cohen in the London Evening Standard. She played the Chopin Nocturne that had saved her life for her interviewer.
"The room is awash with notes, gentle and sad beyond words," he wrote. "In Natalia's half-shut eyes I can see that she is far away."
Natalia Karp's husband died in 1993. She is survived by her two daughters, one of whom, Anne, is a journalist on the Guardian.
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