She Was 40 When The Nazis Took Her. Now, She’s Outlived Them And Has Something Incredible To Say.
Ms. Herz-Sommer has lived in London’s Belsize Park since 1986, where she receives daily visits from her closest friends, her grandson Ariel Sommer and daughter-in-law Genevieve Sommer. (Photo : The Times/Richard Pohle)
Alice Herz has lived through things you can’t imagine. Here’s what keeps her more passionate about life than most 20-somethings I know.
ORIGINAL: “The Lady in Number 6.” You can watch the entire film online and learn more about Alice Herz Sommer at TheLadyInNumber6.com. Found on Huffington Post Impact.
Alice Herz was born in Prague, Austria-Hungary, along with her twin sister Mariana, to Friedrich and Sofie Herz; he was a merchant and her mother was highly educated and moved in circles of well-known writers. As a child, she met Gustav Mahler and Franz Kafka. Herz-Sommer’s older sister Irma taught her how to play piano, which she studied diligently. She also studied under Václav Št?pán (cs), and at the Prague German Conservatory of Music. She had begun giving concerts and making a name for herself before the Germans took over her city.
She married the businessman and amateur musician Leopold Sommer in 1931; the couple had a son, Raphael, who died in 2001. After the invasion of Czechoslovakia, most of her family and friends emigrated to Palestine via Romania, including Max Brod and brother-in-law Felix Weltsch, but Herz-Sommer stayed in Prague to care for her ill mother, who was one of the first to be sent to Theresienstadt concentration camp.
In July 1943, she, her husband, and their six-year-old son Raphael were sent to Theresienstadt concentration camp. She played more than 100 concerts in the camp along with other musicians. Leopold Sommer was later sent to Auschwitz. Although he survived the camp, he died at Dachau in 1944. After the Soviet liberation of Theresienstadt in 1945, Herz-Sommer and Raphael returned to Prague and in March 1949 emigrated to Israel to be reunited with her family. She lived in Israel and worked as a music teacher in Jerusalem until emigrating to London in 1986. Raphael Sommer, her only child, was an accomplished cellist and conductor. He died in 2001 and his widow and two sons survived him.
At 110 years old, Herz-Sommer lives close to her family in London, with visits almost daily from her closest friends, her grandson Ariel Sommer, and daughter-in-law Genevieve Sommer.
In 2012, Random House published Caroline Stoessinger’s book, A Century of Wisdom: Lessons From the Life of Alice Herz-Sommer the World’s Oldest Living Holocast Survivor, with an introduction by President Václav Havel and accolades from Elie Wiesel, Pat Conroy and Gloria Steinem. Stoessinger won the Norman Mailer Award. The Jewish Week book critic wrote “Stoessinger, a pianist and musical director, captures Herz-Sommer’s moral strength, sense of humour, modesty, independence, curiosity about people and abounding love.” A Century of Wisdom is being published in translation in 26 countries. Herz-Sommer was also the subject of A Garden of Eden in Hell, first published in German in 2005 (reprinted in English as Alice’s Piano).
The film The Lady In Number 6: Music Saved My Life documents Hertz’s life. The BBC documentary Alice Sommer Herz at 106: Everything Is a Present, written and produced by Christopher Nupen, was first broadcast on BBC4. She was featured on BBC Radio 4‘s Woman’s Hour in 2004 and in The Times and The Guardian.
- Jump up ^ “The Lady In Number 6″ by Tom Gross, November 12, 2010
- Jump up ^ “The Woman Who Remembers Mahler” by Alex Ross, The New Yorker, 26 November 2013
- Jump up ^ Guardian obituary for Raphael Sommer, “Cellist whose musical flair survived a concentration camp”, by Louise Greenberg, The Guardian, 28 November 2001
- Jump up ^ Stoessinger, Caroline, A century of wisdom: Lessons From the Life of Alice Herz-Sommer, the World’s Oldest Living Holocast Survivor, New York, Spiegel & Grau/Random House, 2012.
- Jump up ^ Caroline Stoessinger, “Never Too Old: Words of Wisdom from Alice Herz-Sommer, The World’s Oldest Living Holocaust Survivor”, Huffington Post, April 19, 2012
- Jump up ^ Caroline Stoessinger, “If Only Dad Had Read This”, Huffington Post, June 16, 2012.
- Jump up ^ Muller, Melissa and Piechocki , Reinhard (2007) A Garden of Eden in Hell: The Life of Alice Herz-Sommer]. Macmillan; illustrated edition ISBN 978-0-230-52802-4
- Jump up ^ The Lady In Number 6, website
- Jump up ^ The Lady In Number 6 at the Internet Movie Database
- Jump up ^ Alice Sommer Herz at 106: Everything Is a Present, BBC documentary by Christopher Nupen
- Jump up ^ “Surviving the Holocaust” BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour programme. 27 Jan 2006
- Jump up ^ “A Life in the Day: Alice Herz-Sommer”, The Sunday Times, 27 January 2008
- Jump up ^ Guardian video (3 mins) “Holocaust survivor Alice Herz Sommer playing piano”, 13 June 2010