Alice Herz-Sommer, the Oldest Holocaust Survivor (Thanks to the Power of Music), Dies at 110

On Sunday, 23 February 2014, Alice Herz-Sommer, thought to be the oldest Holocaust survivor, died in London. She has been an inspiration to many people as the story of her life is shown in the Oscar-nominated documentary called "The Lady in Number 6" (the video above is the official trailer).

Alice was born in Prague – then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire – in 1903. She started playing the piano as a child and took lessons with Conrad Ansorge, a student of Liszt. At 16, she attended the master class at Prague’s prestigious German musical academy. Later, Alice became a respected concert pianist in Prague. Through her family, she also knew Franz Kafka. All of this changed when the Nazis occupied Czechoslovakia in March 1939. Along with other Jews living in Prague, Alice was initially forced to live in Prague’s ghetto before being deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp in 1943, along with her five-year-old son Raphael. Eventually her whole family, including her husband, cellist Leopold Sommer, and her mother, was sent to Auschwitz, Treblinka and Dachau, where they were killed.

Alice and her son survived Theresienstadt because the Nazis used this particular concentration camp to show the world how “well” the inmates were treated. A propaganda film by the Nazis was shot and a delegation from the Danish and International Red Cross was shown around in 1943. To boost morale, Alice and many other imprisoned musicians regularly performed for the inmates. Despite the unimaginable living conditions, Alice and her son survived. They moved to Israel after the war, where she taught music. In 1986, she moved to London. Her son died in 2001 (obituary here).

The way Alice dealt with those horrible times is particularly inspiring. She says about the role of music: “I felt that this is the only thing which helps me to have hope … it’s a sort of religion actually. Music is … is God. In difficult times you feel it, especially when you are suffering.” When asked by German journalists if she hated Germans, she replied: “I never hate, and I will never hate. Hatred brings only hatred.”

Extra material:

By profession, Matthias Rascher teaches English and History at a High School in northern Bavaria, Germany. In his free time he scours the web for good links and posts the best finds on Twitter.

 

How Alice Herz-Sommer, the Oldest Holocaust Survivor, Survived the Horrific Ordeal with Music

What you're watching is the trailer for the documentary Alice Dancing Under the Gallows by Nick Reed, to be released later this year. At 110, Alice Herz-Sommer is the oldest Holocaust survivor. Her story is both touching and inspiring.

Alice was born in Prague - then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire - in 1903. She started playing the piano as a child and took lessons with Conrad Ansorge, a student of Liszt. At 16, she attended the master class at Prague’s prestigious German musical academy. Later, Alice became a respected concert pianist in Prague. Through her family, she also knew Franz Kafka. All of this changed when the Nazis occupied Czechoslovakia in March 1939. Along with other Jews living in Prague, Alice was initially forced to live in Prague's ghetto before being deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp in 1943, along with her five-year-old son Raphael. Eventually her whole family, including her husband, cellist Leopold Sommer, and her mother, were sent to Auschwitz, Treblinka and Dachau, where they were killed.

Alice and her son survived Theresienstadt because the Nazis used this particular concentration camp to show the world how "well" the inmates were treated. A propaganda film by the Nazis was shot and a delegation from the Danish and International Red Cross was shown around in 1943. To boost morale, Alice and many other imprisoned musicians regularly performed for the inmates. Despite the unimaginable living conditions, Alice and her son survived. They moved to Israel after the war, where she taught music. In 1986, she moved to London, where she still lives. Her son died in 2001 (obituary here).

The way Alice dealt with those horrible times is particularly inspiring. She says about the role of music: "I felt that this is the only thing which helps me to have hope … it’s a sort of religion actually. Music is … is God. In difficult times you feel it, especially when you are suffering." When asked by German journalists if she hated Germans, she replied: "I never hate, and I will never hate. Hatred brings only hatred."

Extra material: Art Therapy Blog has a transcript of the trailer, memorable quotes by Alice and two BBC Radio interviews with her. Alice's life story is told in the book A Garden of Eden in Hell.

By profession, Matthias Rascher teaches English and History at a High School in northern Bavaria, Germany. In his free time he scours the web for good links and posts the best finds on Twitter.

Ahead of Time: The Life & Times of Ruth Gruber

Ahead of Time, a new documentary, tells the remarkable true story of Ruth Gruber. Born in Brooklyn in 1911, Gruber became the youngest person in the world (let alone woman) to earn a Ph.D degree; she did so at the age of 20 from the University of Cologne, where she majored in German Philosophy, Modern English Literature, and Art History.

While in Germany, Gruber witnessed Nazi rallies and later returned to America with an acute awareness of the dangers posed by Nazism. Beginning her career in journalism, she returned to Germany on a secret mission for the FDR administration and photographed Holocaust refugees. (You can see the photos Gruber captured in this post, and absolutely don't miss the video interview with the 99-year-old Ruth at the bottom of that page). After the war, Gruber continued working as a foreign correspondent and photojournalist – a career that has spanned seven decades.

The short clip above offers a preview of Ahead of Time, which airs on Showtime tonight (Monday, March 7) at 5:30PM ET/PT, tomorrow (Tuesday, March 8) at 8PM ET/PT, and Friday, March 11 at 4PM ET/PT. For a complete list of Ahead of Time showings, see here. Ahead of Time promises to explain the long and incredibly inspiring career of Ruth Gruber as a journalist, lecturer, author, photographer, and humanitarian. Don't miss it!

Eugene Buchko is a blogger and photographer living in Atlanta, GA. He maintains a photoblog, Erudite Expressions, and writes about what he reads on his reading blog.

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