Alice Herz-Sommer

Alice Herz-Sommer

British centenarian, pianist, Holocaust victim
Date of Birth: 26.11.1903
Country: Great Britain

Biography of Alice Herz-Sommer

Alice Herz-Sommer, also known as Alice Sommer, was a British centenarian, pianist, and a Holocaust survivor. She was born in 1903 in Prague, Austria-Hungary, which was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, into a Jewish family. Alice grew up in a well-to-do household, with her parents running a small scale business. She developed a love for music from a young age and began playing the piano at the age of five.

Alice Herz-Sommer

Alice was determined to become a serious musician and at the age of 16, she became a student at the Prague German Conservatory of Music. Her teachers recognized her talent and she soon gained recognition as a promising pianist across Europe. By the late 1920s, Alice was well-known among music lovers and received praise for her performances.

Alice Herz-Sommer

In 1931, Alice married the violinist Leopold Sommer. They had a son named Stefan in 1937, who later changed his name to Raphael after moving to Israel. When German troops entered Czechoslovakia, persecution of Jews began. Many of Alice's friends and relatives were able to leave the country, but she and her family remained behind.

Alice Herz-Sommer

As a Jewish pianist, Alice was no longer allowed to give public concerts. However, she continued to perform in private concerts and taught music despite the restrictions. In the midst of despair and helplessness, Alice found solace in playing Chopin's études, which are known to be some of the most challenging pieces for the piano. Music became her refuge from hunger and depression.

Alice Herz-Sommer

In 1943, Alice, her husband, and their six-year-old son were deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp, which was referred to as a "model" Jewish settlement. Despite the harsh conditions, Alice continued to play music and participated in self-organized concerts alongside other musicians, writers, and artists. She later expressed that it was music that helped her survive the horrors of the Holocaust.

Alice Herz-Sommer

Alice's husband, Leopold, was later transferred to Auschwitz and then Dachau, where he died. The Theresienstadt camp was liberated by Soviet troops in 1945, but life for Jewish survivors in Czechoslovakia was still challenging due to widespread antisemitism. Consequently, Alice and her son immigrated to Israel. She worked at the Jerusalem Conservatory and became a respected pianist in the country. She also taught music to her son.

After living in Israel for about 30 years, Alice moved to London in the mid-1980s to be closer to her son. Despite being diagnosed with cancer soon after her arrival, she continued to live, play Bach, Beethoven, and Chopin on the piano, and give concerts. Until the age of 97, Alice swam daily, and every morning she played her favorite pieces from memory.

Unfortunately, Alice outlived her son Raphael, who became a renowned cellist and composer and passed away during a concert tour in Israel in 2001. Alice Herz-Sommer, who celebrated her 110th birthday in November 2013, continues to live alone in a small London apartment. Every week, she receives a chicken from a local butcher, which she uses to make her own soup. Alice believes that her boundless optimism is the source of her vitality. Despite experiencing much adversity in her long life, she never despaired and always focused on the good.

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