Life’s Attitudes and Thankfulness: Alice Herz Sommer
Why would someone who has lost family and spent years in a concentration camp have anything to be happy about? How can she say that life is beautiful and music was the instrument God used to bring Himself into the presence of those who were suffering the most? The beautiful smile on the cover of her book shown here would hardly tell the story nor the video at the end of this writing.
In 2010, Alice Herz-Sommer was the oldest living survivor of the Holocaust at age 107. She came from a German-speaking Jewish family and at age five, Alice was a music pupil of the famous composer, Franz Zeist in Prague. Her father made machine parts and her mother was a concert pianist. All perished in the death camps. She married Leopold Sommer, the famous concert cellist who also died at Auschwitz.
When asked by many interviewers, ” What do you believe about life and what have you learned?” These are some of the things that she says about different topics:
- Banned musicians who played concert style in her prison camp
“Whenever I knew that I had a concert, I was happy. 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…as we would have.”
- Her dedication to her music and helping herself at the “show camp…Terezin-Theresienstadt concentration camp..” set up to impress the Red Cross that all was going well in the camps and a staging post for those who would die.
“From my inner spirit came…now, you alone can help yourself…not your husband, not the doctor, not the child…at that moment I knew I had to play Frederic Chopin’s 24 etudes, which are the greatest challenge for any pianist. Like Goethe’s ‘Faust’ or Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet.’ … I practiced for hours and hours until they forced us out.”
- Her young son, who was in the camp with her
“He took part in a performance of the children’s opers Brundibar, staged for Red Cross officials in 1944. Soon after the show, all the children — except Raphael and one girl — were sent to the gas chambers at Auschwitz. Of the 15,000 children in our camp, Raphael was one of only 130 to survive.”
- About her family
“The whole family of my husband, several members of my family, all my friends, all the friends of my family, nobody came back.”
- On the trial of Adolf Eichmann that she attended in 1962
“I have to say that I had pity for him. I have pity for the entire German people. They are wonderful people, no worse than others. … [What they did] was a terrible thing, but was Alexander the Great any better? Evil has always existed and always will. It is part of our life.”
Liberated in 1945 by allied forces, Alice immigrated to Israel as a music teacher; living there forty years. She went to England to join her son, Raphael, who died of a heart attack.
- On thankfulness and end of life
“Raphael died without pain. It is the greatest miracle and the greatest privilege in our life, to die without pain, so I am full of thankfulness.”
- On life
“When you are pessimistic, your body behaves in an unnatural way. It is up to us whether we look at the good or the bad. When you are nice to others, they are nice to you. When you give, you receive.”
Words of wisdom from a woman who has lived more than most ever will. Listen to her words in the video below and give thanks.