Zuzana Ruzickova was one of the world’s leading harpsichordists. Her more than 65 recorded albums and thousands of public performances from the early 1950s to 2006 won her legions of fans across the world, and many international awards and honours.
She was born in Pilsen, Czechoslovakia, in 1927, and was recognised as a gifted musician at a young age, before she and her Jewish family suffered the horrors of the Nazi occupation of her country, deported first to Terezin and to Auschwitz, to slave labour in Germany where only clumps of grass saved her and her mother from starvation, and finally to the death camp of Bergen-Belsen.
Zuzana and her mother miraculously survived the war and returned to Czechoslovakia, but her burning desire to become a professional musician seemed doomed. She was acutely undernourished, and her hands were damaged from years of slave labour. Yet, tremendous determination, the wonderful good fortune of meeting composer Viktor Kalabis (who became her husband of fifty years) and her brilliant talent led her to embark upon a promising career as a harpsichordist. However, the Czech Communist Party were not about to respect this non-Party member. The authorities did not allow her to teach Czech students, determined her travel schedules, withheld foreign earnings and never let her and Viktor forget for a moment that they were constantly being watched.
Nevertheless, they could not stop her international climb to the zenith of harpsichord performances and international acclaim. Like Viktor, it was only with the collapse of communism that Zuzana really was granted the respect – as a professor and as a musical leader – in her home country that she so richly deserved.
Zuzana ceased to give public performances in 2004. However, she remained enormously active in Czech musical life, while at the same time promoting Viktor’s music, developing the Foundation and, because of constant demands, talking in public about the Holocaust as an eyewitness.
Zuzana died in September 2017 in Prague, at the age of 90. In the months before her death, she had been working with author Wendy Holden on her memoirs, ONE HUNDRED MIRACLES: A MEMOIR OF MUSIC AND SURVIVAL, which will be published in Spring 2019 by Bloomsbury.