Once in awhile, a true inspiration of a person will come along. We lost Nelson Mandela recently, but there’s someone who’s possibly even more of an inspiration (at least to me) who’s still around…after 110 years. As she recently turned 110 and is in her 111th year, I dedicate this post to the truly inspirational but relatively unknown Alice Herz-Sommer, also known as the world’s oldest Holocaust survivor.
Alice Herz-Sommer was born in Prague in 1903. 1903 is also the year of the Wright brothers’ first flight, and the creation of the teddy bear, Crayola crayons, and the nation of Panama.
Alice’s story is one of courage, love and music. As a Jewish woman in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia, she was inevitably targeted by the Nazis and sent off to the concentration camps. However, due to her incredible talent on the piano, she was not killed but sent to live at Theresienstadt, a “model concentration camp” constructed by Hitler to be a “city for the Jews.” She spent the war years performing in an ensemble consisting of other Jewish musicians. They played for the Red Cross, Nazi soldiers, and Hitler as well. She literally “played for her life” as the Nazis deemed her as one of the few Jews worthy to stay alive – as long as she kept at the piano, she was safe.
One of her greatest pleasures in life is laughing, and she’s having the last one right now, having outlived most of the others of her generation. She lives in London, where she is adored by her family and the world for her indomitable spirit and for still possessing a sharp mind, a sense of humor, and a penchant for playing the piano, which she does every day. Every time I see her face, whether old or young, or hear her voice, I just feel so warm inside, like she’s my wise old grandmother. Alice Herz-Sommer is a true testament to the power of the performing arts, the will to celebrate life, and the beauty of the human experience. A true inspiration in every sense of the world. She’s had so much life experience and she’s still around to share it with the world.
To quote Ms. Herz-Sommer herself, “Music is beautiful…life is a beautiful thing.”
But don’t take my word for it, take hers.
Keep living the dream, Alice.