Feb 06

Alice Herz Sommer

Over a hundred years ago Alice Herz Sommer began to play the piano.  Before long her career had taken a decidedly unpleasant route,  having to perform and practice virtually at gun point separated from her entire family apart from a six year old son, Raphael, whilst interred in a concentration camp.  Somehow she survived and even says she managed to smile throughout her ordeal.  Sill alive today she still plays for three hours a day and is not only the longest living holocaust survivor, she’s also the oldest known person in London.  Here’s a little about her fascinating story.

Alice was a Jew born in Prague in the November of 1903.  She was born into comfortable surroundings in the Jewish community and was taught to play piano by her sister Irma.  She studied hard and was eventually taught by Vaclav Stepan and eventually at the Prague German Conservatory of Music.  When the Germans invaded Czechoslovakia most of her family moved away to Palestine but Alice stayed to care for her elderly mother.  Subsequently, in 1943 she, along with her husband and young son were taken to the Theresienstadt concentration camp.  Upon hearing of her prowess as a pianist, she was separated for much of her stay and forced to perform concerts along with a group of musicians, soloists and performers as a publicity exercise to veil the camp under a false normality to the outside world.  Her husband was moved on, first to Auschwitz and then to Dachau in 1944 where he eventually died.  The camp was liberated by the Russians in 1945 and she returned to Prague with her son before eventually emigrating to Israel in 1949. For those last two years of the war she was a prisoner in a camp where people were dying all around her at the hands of a brutal regime and she had to perform, in public as though she were on a holiday camp.

“I love people, I love everyone, I love to speak with them. Every day in life is beautiful, every day that we are here.”

Alice Herz Sommer


Imagine this, next time you have to go into work unexpectedly or be asked to do some over time at an inopportune moment; she’s taken from her home, separated from her entire family – she will never see any of them again except for her son, and she’s told she must perform whilst enduring this living hell.  She did over a hundred concerts in the two years she was there. That equates to a concert a week to rehearse, practice and perform under this sombre cloud of isolation and barbarism.

In my opinion, her stout resolution to survive not only the camp, but to be able to perform, protect her son and stay healthy enough to go on and survive everyone responsible for putting her there is the finest and most stylish way to thumb ones tooth at the abomination that was her early years.  Her son went on to become an accomplished ‘cellist and conductor and Alice herself taught music right up to 1986 when she eventually retired and settled in London.  She was filmed recently so I’ll let you make your own minds up about this wonderful lady.  For me she is so much more than an inspiration, she is a survivor and her sunny disposition just blows me away.

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