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Inspirational People: Alice Herz-Sommer

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

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.

The flag of Panama.

 

Teddy bear, born in Germany about 1954

 

English: Photograph of the first successful fl...

 

English: The first version of the Crayola No.6...

 

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.

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An Adventure in Snow and Ice

Last night I got an idea for a story to write, so I stayed up writing until 3 AM for no good reason at all, after which I told myself I’d get up at 10 at the latest…yeah, didn’t happen. I was in bed until the afternoon and then on the couch, not doing much, until I got dressed, dragged myself out into the snow to Michelangelo’s for a cappuccino and sandwich around 3:30 (ironically, when it started becoming night again). I decided to head out to do some last-minute shopping before the trip: Marshalls, Walgreens, and Metcalfe’s, for some candles, toothpaste, and last minute sustenance items for tomorrow’s drive back to Baltimore.

Walking back to my car in the dark, I realized that the accumulated snow on my car merited a cleaning, so I figure, no problem, ten minutes. I wipe off the snow, and what greets me is something that I’m completely unprepared for…

ICE.

Not just ordinary ice, thick ice. Coating all the windows, front, back, and side.

I took out my ice scraper and began to…well, scrape the ice away. Seeing as I couldn’t find a single spot in which to stick the scraper end, I bashed it into the windshield hoping I wouldn’t shatter it (that’s not possible…is it?) to make a small crack in the impenetrable wall of ice, and used that to scratch a tiny hole that slowly grew bigger. I did the same on the side and back. A half hour later, I had barely made a dent in the windshield, but decided to go anyway. I got into the car, with about a ten-inch window of visibility towards the front. Ok, I’m just going to have to duck and be extra careful, I said to myself. With the defroster cranked up and the wipers going, the back window was beginning to thaw out and I could roll down the side windows for some extra perception, but the windshield was going to be a problem. I just hoped that I’d make it out and back alive.

My first stop was going to be Metcalfe’s, so I prepared to turn right on Langdon, when I realized…I can’t see a thing out of the passenger side of the car. Well, left turn it is then.

After a few carefully navigated turns, I found myself on Johnson Street, which was slightly more paved than Langdon. At this point, I was starting to feel a pain in my neck from the awkward angle at which I was twisting it to see out the sliver of non-iced windshield. I can’t go on like this much longer, I gotta stop, pull over, and scrape some more. The problem: there was nowhere to pull over and there were other cars on the road as well, making it difficult to change lanes or make any sudden stops.

The heat generated from the car started warming up the bottom of the ice sheet so that if I sat with my head forward, granny-style, I could see the whole road through the thin strip that was slowly getting clearer. Only that hurt my neck even more, so I kept going.

All of a sudden, it got darker. It was then I realized that I had no idea where I was driving, or what road I was on. All I knew is that I was heading east. Then I realized I could barely see in front of me. Were my lights on? I turned my brights on just in case. Wait a minute…had I scraped the snow off my headlights?

Fuck.

I was driving on a dark, country road with an ice-covered windshield and the only light coming from a car that was behind me, shining on either side. This wasn’t good.

However, I was keeping within the lane as best as I could, obeying the speed limit (like I had an option) and remaining on the road without crashing. I saw some lights up ahead – maybe there’s an intersection coming up. At this point, Bonnie Tyler’s “I Need A Hero” came on my iPhone, and with a chorus of dun-dun-da-dun-dun, I was tearing through the wintry road like a crazy person, the ice melting away just enough to get a clear picture of the whole road if I looked forward a little bit. It felt so intrepid, like that daredevil showdown scene in Footloose, only with just myself, a bunch of snow and ice, and no Kevin Bacon.

At the song’s end, I came to a large intersection – Route 15 – where instinct told me to head south. I had no idea how far I had gone – perhaps I was in Columbia County by now or something – but the intersections on this much larger and better-lit road bore names that I didn’t recognize. Just when I felt hopelessly lost, I saw a “Welcome to Madison” sign, and the lights of West Washington in front of me, ensuring my safety. The icy windshield was about half-gone. At a red light, I opened the Maps app on my iPhone. I had taken County Road CV out to just past the airport, where I have to go to pick up my dad tomorrow. Unfortunately, I missed the turn onto West Washington, but took Milwaukee Ave to get me there just as well, arriving at the East Towne Marshalls at about 8:15. I parked and turned off the car.

I’d made it. Through the ice and snow, and dangerously low visibility, I rode it out and got there alive. It would’ve sucked on a National Lampoon level if they were closed…

But they were very much still open, so I did some shopping, and then made my two more predetermined stops before getting home. I was about eighty dollars poorer, but my windshield was almost completely clear and I felt so alive.