Alice Herz-Sommer, who was thought to have been the oldest survivor of the Holocaust, passed away on Sunday in London at the age of 110, stated one of her family members. Herz-Sommer’s love of her son and dedication to the piano helped sustain her through two years inside a Nazi death camp. There has also been a film made about her that has received an Academy Award nomination for top short documentary. She died while inside the hospital on Sunday morning after she was admitted on Friday, explained her daughter-in-law Genevieve.
Frederic Bohbot, who produced the documentary about Herz-Sommer, The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life, stated that everyone who knew her had almost come to believe that Herz-Sommer would never die, so there was never any question about her getting to see the Oscars, no one ever thought she would have passed away before then.
She was a gifted pianist, so she, her husband and their son were all sent from Prague in 1943 to a concentration camp located in the Czech town of Terezin where inmates were permitted to put on concerts in which she regularly starred in. There was believed to be around 140,000 Jews that were sent to Terezin and nearly 33,450 perished there. There were nearly 90,000 who were moved to Auschwitz and other Nazi death camps. They were mostly killed after being taken there. Herz-Sommer and her son, Stephan, were only among less than 20,000 who got out of Terezin when the prison camp was freed by the Soviet army in 1945.
She stated that she recalled herself laughing much during the time she spent in Terezin, where the happiness of creating music was what kept her going. She once explained that at concerts she would see the people sitting there in the audience and they were old and ill, yet they came to the concerts to listen to the music because it was like food. It kept them all alive. By being able to create music, they were able to stay alive. She added that when they could not play, it became terrible.
One of her saddest memories was that she never found out where her mother passed away after being rounded up. She lost her husband to typhus at Dachau, but even in her elder years she uttered very little bitterness. She just stated that everyone was the same, both good and bad.
She was born on Nov. 26, 1903, in Prague, and began learning to play the piano at the tender age of 5. When she was older, she met the writer Franz Kafka, who was a friend of her brother-in-law, and loved the stories he would tell. Alice was married to Leopold Sommer in 1931 and they had a son in 1937, only two years before the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia.
Jews were only permitted to shop for a half hour during the afternoon. By this time most shops were empty. Many Jewish families had to leave their own homes and move in with other families, but she and her family were able to keep their place. However in 1942, her mother, who was aged 73, was sent to Terezin, and later to Treblinka. Herz-Sommer declared that was the lowest point in her life. Until just now I had not known where they sent her, where she died, not anything about her.
Repeating, Alice Herz-Sommer, who was thought to have been the oldest survivor of the Holocaust, passed away on Sunday in London. She was aged 110, stated one of her family members.
By Kimberly Ruble
The Washington Post