Zuzana Růžičková was born in Plzen, Czechoslovakia, to a prosperous family that owned a successful department store. Her mother was an Orthodox Jew.
Zuzana began taking piano lessons at age nine and was encouraged by her piano teacher to take up the harpsichord. She had hopes of studying in Paris with Wanda Landowska, but World War II intervened. Following the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1938, the Jews in Plzen, including 13-year-old Zuzana and her family, were sent to the concentration camp at Theresienstadt (Terezín). There she did agricultural work during the day and attended concerts, lectures, and lessons given by other prisoners. In 1943, after the death of her father, she and her mother were sent to the Auschwitz death camp and in June 1944, to a slave labor facility in Hamburg, Germany. As the Red Army advanced eastward, the two were sent with other prisoners to Bergen-Belsen, where they survived to be liberated by British and Canadian troops. She was treated for malnutrition and disease and became a translator for the medical staff.
With her mother, she returned to Czechoslovakia in July 1945. She returned to her education at the elementary school level and began studying piano again. In 1947, she was able to enroll in the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (Akademie múzických umění or AMU), a university-level school of music, dance, and drama, where she specialized in the harpsichord and early music. She earned both a BA and an MA degree. In 1950, she began working at the AMU, teaching composers to play the piano. One of her students was her future husband, Viktor Kalabis, whom she married in 1952. She took the top prize at the ARD International Music Competition in Munich in 1956, which led to further invitations to perform throughout Europe. However, as a Jew, she was under suspicion from the Communist government and not allowed to teach music to Czech students or participate in the Czech Philharmonic. Some of these policies were relaxed after the death of Stalin and she was able to travel and work more freely. She recorded record albums for international distribution, which made her famous. The issuance of these albums coincided with a revival of Baroque music in Western Europe and led to a contract for her to record the complete keyboard works of Johann Sebastian Bach -- she became known as the great interpreter of his works. When the Communist regime was overthrown in 1989, she was able to claim the title of "Professor," which had been denied her at the AMU for decades, and was able to serve as a jury member for music competitions. She became involved in various musical organizations and committees dedicated to the interpretation and preservation of early music, and to the discovery of young musicians. She served as president of the Viktor Kalabis & Zuzana Růžičková Foundation, vice-president of the Prague Spring International Competition Committee, and a member of the advisory boards of the Czech Chamber Music Society. She is also active in the Terezín Initiative, through which she was able to fund a memorial for Fredy Hirsch.