Alice Herz-Sommer, the world’s oldest known Holocaust surivor, died Sunday in London at the age of 110.
I’d written about Herz-Sommer last December. About her amazing smile, and positive outlook on life, even though she lost her husband and mother to Nazi concentration camps.
Alice survived the war because she was a concert pianist, and the Nazis spared her so she could play music at the Theresienstadt camp, which was used a PR model of how “well” the camps treated Jews.
In fact, Theresienstadt was a concentration camp where people died in their own right, or were shipped off to Auschwitz and Treblinka, among other extermination camps.
In my earlier piece I included a wondeful snippet of a documentary about Alice, in which she talked about playing music in the camp:
Even the bad is beautiful, I would say. Even the bad is beautiful. It has to be, when you are knowing that you are playing the evening, the concert, and people old, terribly ill, people came to this concert and became young. It is a mystery that when the first tone of music starts, it goes straight away in our soul.
I loved to play. We should thank Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert, Schumann. They gave us beauty. They gave us indescribable beauty. They made us happy.
Only when we are so old – only – we are aware of the beauty of life.
In the AP piece about her death, she talks about the night before she was shipped off to Theresienstadt:
She recalled an awkward conversation on the night before her departure to the concentration camp with a Nazi who lived upstairs and called to say that he would miss her playing.
She remembered him saying: “‘I hope you will come back. What I want to tell you is that I admire you, your playing, hours and hours, the patience and the beauty of the music.’”
Other neighbors, she said, stopped by only to take whatever the family wasn’t able to bring to the camp.
“So the Nazi was a human, the only human. The Nazi, he thanked me,” she said.
She was an amazing lady. You really should watch the excerpt from the documentary, below. It’s hard to imagine anyone reaching the age of 110 and not ending up a bit of a jerk. I’m not even half that age and I can feel life’s little annoyances accumulating in a rather unhealthy way. What a neat person.