Tag Archives: Holocaust

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!