Alice as a young child
Born in Prague in 1903 Alice grew up in a cultured and loving family which was part of the German-speaking Czech-Jewish assimilated society. Her mother had been a playmate of Gustav Mahler and as a child Alice frequently played with Franz Kafka who came to her home for Sunday lunch. As a young woman Alice would attend Kafka's funeral almost two decades later. Her familiar, secure world of writers, composers and artists was destroyed by the Holocaust. As a child Alice grew up in a world that revered art, artists and great literature. It was a world where a concert, opera or book review made front page news in major newspapers.Alice Herz-Sommer was living in Prague when she received her deportation summons from the Nazis. Her mother and husband had already been transported to Auschwitz by the time she and her five year old son were rounded up and sent to the Theresienstadt Concentration Camp.
"Alice survived through music… Still today, she speaks with great pride and passion of playing more than 100 concerts inside the concentration camp and she likens that experience, both for the performers and their imprisoned audience as being close to the divine. Alice is unequivocal in stating that music preserved her sanity and her life – while bringing hope into the lives of countless others. To this day Alice never tires of saying; "Music saved my life and Music saves me still."
"Alice Herz-Sommer is 106 years old, she will be 107 on November 23, 2010.. As well as being the second oldest person living in London, England - she is more significantly the world's oldest survivor of Hitler's holocaust."
" Today she's both the last person alive on the planet who can claim to have been both a close friend of Franz Kafka and to have regularly sat on the knee of her Mother's friend; Gustav Mahler, as a little girl. But what really makes Alice stand out from the pack is her extraordinary optimism and forbearance – her absolute conviction that despite all the terrible things that she witnessed and endured – she still can not and will not bear any trace of enmity or hatred for those who did everything in their power to terminate her existence and that of her family and her People.
As might be expected Alice is rather unique. Living entirely alone in a tiny council flat in central London she spends hours each day at her piano, practicing beloved Bach and Beethoven, for she was once a renowned and celebrated concert pianist performing to enthusiastic audiences throughout central Europe."
"...Alice suffered experiences that no human being should have to endure. She saw both her mother and her husband put aboard the transports to Auschwitz and yet today she speaks of those times with an absence of malice and quiet grace that wins the hearts of all who know her. Along with her six-year-old son, Raphael, Alice was imprisoned in the Theresienstadt concentration camp where her most enduring memories are of her helplessness and inability to feed her child or to answer his many questions about why they and so many others were being subjected to the indescribable nightmare of the Holocaust..."
"Yet despite all that has befallen her, Alice insists that she has never, ever hated the Nazis, and she never will. Some see in her tolerance and compassion a secular saint who has been blessed with the gift of forgiveness, but Alice is far more pragmatic - she has seen enough in her life to know all too well that hatred eats the soul of the hater, not the hated. Alice laughs easily and still becomes flirtatious in the presence of young men. With her remarkable memory she's able to keep her busy schedule in her head without a diary or the assistance of a secretary. She makes her own appointments, does her own cooking and shopping, takes two long daily walks and frequently talks with journalists, students, musicians and just about anyone else who understands and loves music.
And it's from music that Alice derives her supreme optimism. As she's so fond of saying; "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."
To this day Alice Herz-Sommer still plays chamber music in the evenings with her few remaining friends. As she approaches her 107th birthday on November of 2010 she said, "I have had such a beautiful life. And 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".