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November 26: The Oldest Survivor

November 26, 2014
Alice-Herz-Sommer3_2833086bAlice Herz-Sommer, a pianist and music teacher who before her death this year at age 110 was the world’s oldest Holocaust survivor, was born in Prague on this date in 1903. Her parents ran a cultural salon, and she became acquainted with the likes of Gustav Mahler and Franz Kafka. Herz-Sommer was a widely respected pianist in Europe before she was confined by the Nazis in Terezin, the “model” concentration camp, where she would play in more than 100 concerts. “Music is magic,” she later said. “We performed in the council hall before an audience of 150 old, hopeless, sick and hungry people. They lived for the music. It was like food to them. If they hadn’t come [to hear us], they would have died long before.” Herz-Sommer’s son Raphael was among the few children who survived internment in the camp, and he went on to be an accomplished cellist and conductor before predeceasing his mother in 2001. After the war, she lived in Israel for some forty years before emigrating to London in 1986. She played piano for three hours a day until the very end of her life. “I am Jewish,” she once said, “but Beethoven is my religion.” “Kafka was a slightly strange man. He used to come to our house, sit and talk with my mother, mainly about his writing. He did not talk a lot, but rather loved quiet and nature. We frequently went on trips together.” —Alice Herz-Sommer