The surprising case of composer Hans Zimmer.

Born in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1957. In the early 1970s he graduated from Hurtwood House, in the UK, studying piano and music. In 1977 he moved to London, where he began his career as a composer and an avant-garde musician.

He settled in Los Angeles in the nineties. In 1984 he made his debut as a soundtrack composer. As of 2017, with more than 180 film soundtracks, he is the most prolific film composer and one of the most successful in the US. He has been nominated for eight Oscars, including the Lion King, Golden Globes, Grammys, Emmys, etc. His most acclaimed works include: Ridley Scott’s films, (Thelma and Louise, Gladiator), Terrence Malick (The Thin Red Line) or Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight, Origin, and Interestellar) and, most recently Twelve Years a Slave, to cite a few. Despite being one of the most acclaimed and reputed musicians in the industry. He divides his time between London and Los Angeles, where he lives with his family, his wife and four children.

Hans Zimmer concealed his Jewishness for decades.How is it possible that a young man who spent the first fifteen years of his life in the Germany of the sixties and early seventies and who then lived for forty years in the United Kingdom and US conceals his status as a Jew? The sad answer, once again, is found in anti-Semitism. Fear of prejudice. Hans Zimmer’s father died when he was a child (that inspired him to musically illustrate the Lion King score), and his mother rarely told him about his Jewish roots. She never wanted him to receive Jewish religious education. Hans’s mother escaped from Germany in 1939 and survived the war in England, but her silence about the family religion led him to feel that it was, in a way, his secret.

In 1999, during a press conference at the Berlin Film Festival to talk about The Last Days, a documentary about the Holocaust produced by the Shoah Foundation, he was asked why he decided to work on the film. Zimmer approached the stand and  to the great surprise of Hollywood, revealed his family secret to German television: “The Zimmers are Jewish”, he said. No one in Germany, nor his closest friends, knew. In a recent interview, reproduced by Jared Sichel in 2014, Zimmer explained what happened: “As soon as I said it, I thought, oh, my God, I marginalized my mother. I could not wait for the press conference to finish, and they gave me a phone, I called Munich.” Full of anxiety and guilt, Zimmer told his mother what he had done, his mother was silent and then said “I’m so proud of you.” I think that was the only time she said to me, “I’m so proud of you,” Zimmer joked. Zimmer’s mother survived Nazism by fleeing to England in 1939, as we said. At the end of the war, she returned, but hiding her neighbors and knowing her status as a Jew. As the journalist Jared Sichel explains, “his silence about the family religion led him to feel that it was, in a way, his secret.” “Honestly, I think my parents always mistrusted me in case I told the neighbors, “Zimmer said. “That is something that has always flown over me and I could feel it.” [1]

On July 16, 2014 the American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (AFIPO) honored Zimmer with a prize for his entire career at Annenberg Center Wallis for the Performing Arts, Beverly Hills. The great Zubin Mehta led the orchestra which played some of Zimmer’s most memorable works. That same year Hans Zimmer said he was delighted to help the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in all he could and hoped to one day go to Israel to work on a movie. He added, “Today, I can openly qualify the Jews are my people.” In fact, Zimmer even claimed that one reason he was excited to accept the prize was that he had believed that the event would be held in Israel, which would have given him an excuse to travel to the country his mother used to visit every year. It would have been an excuse for an tireless composer who, they say in Hollywood, never takes a vacation.


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