Alice Herz-Sommer, pianist and oldest known survivor of the Holocaust, has died aged 110
26 February 2014
Pianist Alice Herz-Sommer, the oldest known survivor of the Nazi concentration camps who became an icon through her positive outlook, died on 23 February aged 110.
Born in Prague in 1903 Herz-Sommer suffered four years of oppression after the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia, followed by two more in Terezín, the garrison town turned concentration camp outside Prague. There, Herz-Sommer gave well over a hundred concerts. When liberation was followed by further oppression under the Communists, she and her son, later to make his own name as the cellist Raphael Sommer, moved to Israel, where she established a reputation as an outstanding teacher.
A CD of private recordings made by Herz-Sommer in her 60s, 70s and 80s was released on ‘AHS Recordings’ with the German edition of her biography in 2006. They revealed that, hidden behind this story of miraculous survival, she was also one of the great pianists of the past century. Herz-Sommer was a ‘grand-student’ of Liszt, having studied with Conrad Ansorge, one of Liszt’s later disciples.
Herz-Sommer’s basic philosophy – ‘Life is beautiful’ – enabled her to draw strength even from the many adversities that confronted her over the years. In his recently published interview with Herz-Sommer, Martin Anderson observed: ‘You come away from a visit to Alice feeling younger yourself, with a spring in your step: she is not religious, but she radiates gratitude for being alive and her conversation is infused with a profound human decency.’