Monthly Archives: December 2015

Stories from the Archives: Alice Herz-Sommer


“Things are as they are supposed to be,” she says. “I am still here, never too old so long as I breathe to wonder, to learn, and to teach.” ~ (Martyrdom & Resistance, Vol. 37, No. 5, pg. 5)



Alice Herz-Sommer in 1924 (Image courtesy of The NY Times)

As I transition out of my Technical Services and into my Research and Instruction rotation in a few days, I wanted to share one of the stories I came across while creating metadata for the Martyrdom and Resistance digitized collection. The Martyrdom and Resistance newsletter is focused on raising awareness of the Holocaust, Holocaust victims, and Holocaust survivors.

Born in 1903 in Prague, Alice Herz-Sommer was a renown classical pianist. One of five children born to Friedrich and Sofie Herz, she began studying piano at the age of five years.

As a Jewish woman in the 1930s and 1940s, Herz-Sommer experienced the slow loss of freedom in occupied Czechoslovakia. After her mother was murdered by the Nazis, Herz-Sommer and her family were imprisoned in a ghetto. Thereafter, Herz-Sommer, her husband, Leopold  Sommer, and their son, Raphael, were sent to the Theresienstadt (Terezín) concentration camp. Her husband was later sent to Auschwitz. She never saw him again.  Herz-Sommer and her son remained at Theresienstadt for two years.

Herz-Sommer credited her survival, and that of her son, to the music she loved so dearly. The inmates at Theresienstadt, some of whom were gifted musicians, staged concerts as a means of survival and holding onto their humanity; they played through their hunger and weakness. The Nazis permitted them to perform in order to maintain the appearance of civility towards camp inmates. As Herz-Sommer described, “‘People ask, ‘How could you make music?’ We were so weak. But music was special, like a spell, I would say. I gave more than 150 concerts there. There were excellent musicians there, really excellent. Violinists, cellists, singers, conductors and composers.” (The Guardian)

After liberation, Herz-Sommer continued to play. Her son, Raphael, went on to become a celebrated cellist, having inherited his parents’ gift.


Alice Herz-Sommer in her London apartment in 2012. (Image courtesy of The NY Times)

When she died in 2014 at the age of 110, she was the oldest known Holocaust survivor. Until the end, Herz-Sommer continued to look for and appreciate the “nice things in life” (The Guardian).

In a 2012 CNN interview, she identified seven life lessons that are worth realizing, no matter where you are in life:

  • Hatred only begets hatred.
  • Love your work, no matter the situation.
  • Perseverance.
  • In routine, there is hope.
  • If you have something spiritual, you don’t need as much food.
  • Complaining does not help; it makes everyone feel bad.
  • Faith is stronger than fear.

I’m currently reading her biographyA Century of Wisdom: Lessons from the Life of Alice Herz-Sommer, the World’s Oldest Living Holocaust Survivor. Check it out!



The ways in which I’m not a “Librarian”

  1. Sometimes the biggest relief to work is when I clock out and go home and release all the pent up stories, poems, and songs that were lodging in my brain all the day long, because
  2. While I am a pragmatist and a realist, I am also a dreamer and a creator. I love beautiful things and I love to make beautiful things. Sometimes I see beauty where others don’t and sometimes what others behold as beauty, I just stare at. I can’t relate
  3. To cats or cute baby animals or cardigans. The former has fur and

    Reflections on being me…

    stares at me when I walk into the room. It licks itself constantly and then looks at me like I’m the weird one. And walks on my face at night. No! The middle are still animals and, sorry, just not as compelling as baby people. To each their own. The latter are an item of necessity, because even though it’s almost winter, I can still wear that fetching tank, as long as I’m wearing said cardigan. But not your mother-grandma’s cardigan. And speaking of,

  4. I’m most comfortable in funky earrings, wide-legged pants and maybe headwraps. Or just my hair. Because it’s cool. I love jeans, but am not above a dress and heels, as long as the heels aren’t high enough to make me angry. It’s complicated, I know
  5. I love books, but even more, I love the stories within the books. The connections to emotions and the ability to see the world from someone else’s eyes. Something we miss out on all too often, I’m afraid. I believe
  6. In empathy and walking in other people’s shoes, but not because you forced the fit, but because they took them off ungrudgingly. Recognition of vulnerability is the least you can give when learning from someone else. While you’re walking around, they’re standing barefoot and there are still stones. I
  7. Don’t wear pearls, but if I did, I would definitely clutch them and hold them tight, marveling at how smooth and beautiful constant irritation can become. Master of disguise, shape-shifting and turning to fit pieces where they don’t belong, at first. Discomfort
  8.  Isn’t something you can measure, see, or hold. Someone told me about falling forward, learning from mistakes as much as successes. Taking chances, just to see. Challenges and
  9. Being challenged, even if it means stepping back and taking time to breathe. Redefining experiences, turning loss into new opportunities. Focused on
  10. Knowing yourself and knowing that you are unafraid to live outside of boxes. “Because I wanted to.”