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Oldest Known Holocaust Survivor Dies at 110

Alice Herz-Sommer, a survivor of Theresienstadt and subject of an Oscar-nominated documentary, dies in London.
By Elad Benari
First Publish: 2/24/2014, 4:15 AM

Holocaust survivor
Holocaust survivor
Flash 90

A woman believed to be the oldest survivor of the Holocaust died in London at the age of 110, her family said on Sunday, according to Reuters.

Alice Herz-Sommer, who is said to have counted writer Franz Kafka among her family friends and is the subject of an Oscar-nominated documentary, was a Jewish pianist and musician from Prague in what is today the Czech Republic.

In 1943, the Nazis sent her and her young son to Theresienstadt concentration camp, where tens of thousands of people lost their lives.

Neither her husband Leopold nor her mother Sofie survived, but she and her son did.

Her grandson, Ariel Sommer, confirmed her death in London on Sunday, saying, according to Reuters, "Alice Sommer passed away peacefully this morning with her family by her bedside. Much has been written about her, but to those of us who knew her best, she was our dear 'Gigi'."

"She loved us, laughed with us, and cherished music with us. She was an inspiration and our world will be significantly poorer without her by our side," he added.

Herz-Sommer was born in Prague in 1903. She and her son Raphael were freed from Nazi captivity in 1945 when the Soviet Red Army liberated their camp, and emigrated to Israel before settling in Britain.

Raphael, an accomplished cellist and conductor, died in 2001.

A documentary film, "The Lady in Number 6," documents Herz-Sommer's life and has been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Short Documentary at the forthcoming Oscars.

In a text about her on the website of Nick Reed, one of the producers of the documentary about her life, she was quoted as saying she remained upbeat about life despite sensing she was coming to the end of it.

"I think I am in my last days, but it doesn't really matter because I have had such a beautiful life," she said.

"I have lived through many wars and have lost everything many times - including my husband, my mother and my beloved son. Yet, life is beautiful, and I have so much to learn and enjoy. I have no space nor time for pessimism and hate.

"Life is beautiful, love is beautiful, nature and music are beautiful. Everything we experience is a gift, a present we should cherish and pass on to those we love," said Herz-Sommer.

The British Guardian on Sunday quoted an interview Herz-Sommer gave the newspaper in 2006, when she was living alone, continuing to practice the piano for three hours a day and had also only recently given up a daily swimming routine.

“People ask, 'How could you make music?' We were so weak. But music was special, like a spell, I would say. I gave more than 150 concerts there. There were excellent musicians there, really excellent. Violinists, cellists, singers, conductors and composers," she said in that interview, when asked about her concentration camp experience.

Asked if she ever thought about why she survived, Herz-Sommer replied, "My temperament. This optimism and this discipline. Punctually, at 10:00 a.m., I am sitting there at the piano, with everything in order around me. For 30 years I have eaten the same, fish or chicken. Good soup, and this is all. I don't drink, not tea, not coffee, not alcohol. Hot water. I walk a lot with terrible pains, but after 20 minutes it is much better. Sitting or lying is not good."

"I am looking for the nice things in life. I know about the bad things, but I look only for the good things,” she added.