Thursday, February 27, 2014


ALICE HERZ-SOMMER...

 Holocaust survivor, concert pianist and remarkable woman


Alice and her twin Marina were born in Prague in 1903. Her father was a prosperous businessman. Her mother, a well educated woman, moved in the city’s shimmering artistic circles often playing host to Europe's prominent writers, philosophers and musicians. Alice and her siblings were exposed to the "great talents" at a very young age.


Irma, her older sister, taught little Alice to play the piano when she was only five.  At 16 she began serious study at the Prague German Conservatory of Music and by her late teens she was wowing audiences with her concerts.

She married Leopold Sommer in 1931 and together they had a son they called Raphael. Alice filled his life with music and he would later become a renowned cellist.

Aware that the Nazis were headed in their direction most of their family and friends fled to Palestine. Alice and her husband stayed behind to care for her invalid mother.  She said... 

"The lowest point in my life was escorting my mother to the deportation center in Prague." 

It was at this sad time that she began to work on Chopin's Etudes.. a set of 27 solo pieces that are some of the most technically demanding and emotionally impassioned works in piano repertory. This music would quite literally save her life and the life of her son.



Then in 1943 the Nazi's came for her family. The three of them were sent to Terezin, a concentration camp that was promoted by the Nazis as a model institution.  Many of the prisoners there were Czechoslovakia's foremost figures in the performing arts.

“It was propaganda,” she later remarked.

Nonetheless the sustaining power of music was real. She performed in more than 100 concerts for the prisoners and the guards. In her words...

"We had to play because the Red Cross came three times a year. The Germans wanted to show its representatives that the situation of the Jews in Theresienstadt was good. Whenever I knew that I had a concert, I was happy. Music is magic. We performed in the council hall before an audience of 150 old, hopeless, sick and hungry people. They lived for the music. It was like food to them. If they hadn’t come to hear us, they would have died long before, as we would have."

Alice's husband was sent to Auschwitz and died from typhus a short time later.  When a guard approached her and told her not to worry, that because she played so beautifully she and her son would never be taken away, she realized that her music, quite literally, was going to save their lives.

After the war, Alice and Raphael emigrated to Israel to reunite with family. She taught for 40 years at the Jerusalem Academy of Music until her final move to London.  Her son Raphael, an
accomplished cellist died suddenly at the age of 64 from an aneurysm. Once again music sustained her. Friends recall that they knew she was going to be fine when she began to practice again.

For Alice, music was her passion, her life, her love. But it is only a piece of what has been a remarkable life.  She refuses to HATE anyone... only LOVE. She even goes so far as to express gratitude for the experiences she had in the camps... it shaped her life.

One of the most memorable things about Alice is her smile and her laughter. She lifts everyone around her. The people in her London neighborhood and specifically her apt building count themselves lucky that they get to listen to her beautiful music everyday.

 "They know when it is 10:00 AM because that's when I begin to practice."


Throughout her years in Theresienstadt, the loss of her mother and husband, the hunger, the cold and the death... Alice Herz Sommer was sustained by a Polish man who had died long before. His name was Frederic Chopin.  

Known as the oldest Holocaust surviver, Alice passed away peacefully last Sunday at 110 years of age. She leaves behind an extraordinary legacy of talent, passion, love, forgiveness and... laughter. A truly remarkable woman.


This is the trailer from the documentary "The Lady in Number 6"          
follow this link to rent the entire movie