Alice Sommer Herz won my heart a little over five years ago when she was 105 years old. Someone sent me a short video interview of Alice and I remember being moved to tears by her exceptional story and spirit. Alice died this week at the age of 110. At the time of her death she was the oldest living Holocaust survivor, which is remarkable in and of itself. She is, however, best remembered for her contagious, positive spirit, which is all the more noteworthy once one comes to learn her story. Alice survived the Holocaust at the Theresienstadt concentration camp, located in what is now the Czech Republic. Tens of thousands of Jews died there, some killed outright and others dying from malnutrition and disease. More than 150,000 people, including countless children, were held her for months or years before being sent to their deaths. Alice and her young son were spared simply because she was a concert pianist. The Nazi's used her, and other Jewish artists, to perform as part of a propaganda campaign to try and fool the world in to thinking that they were treating the Jews with respect. Her mother and husband were not so fortunate and both died at the hands of the Nazis.
In her own words, Alice described life at the Theresienstadt concentration camp:
“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.”
To have survived life in a concentration camp, to have suffered the deaths of her loved ones and countless other friends, and live to be 110 would be a fantastic enough story. But it's not just that she survived all these tragedies that makes Alice so memorable and admirable. The fact that her spirit found a way to thrive even after having experienced what would understandably leave many people angry, bitter, and hopeless makes her life uniquely inspiring.
Alice's story is best told by Alice herself. Trying to capture her spirit with this written text is like, to use an analogy she would have appreciated, trying to capture the essence of Bach concerto with words. Her story, like the music she played, is a gift for the soul. And so I share this video of Alice with you, and pray that her spirit may be as much a gift for your soul as it has been for mine and to all who knew her.
Rest in peace sweet Alice. Thank you embodying the resiliency of the human spirit and for showing us that, in your own words, that, “"Life is beautiful, love is beautiful, nature and music are beautiful. Everything is a present."
You can watch the video of Alice here:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g5VTkQKgxkY