Alice Herz-Sommer’s life proves two great truths. First, that a happy childhood can help you in life’s great challenges. Second, a positive attitude can help overcome any challenge.
In this article, we tell about the life of Alice Herz-Sommer, an indescribable survivor who cheated death and lived until she was 110 years old.
Why call her a survivor? Because she was sentenced to death when she was very young. She was Jewish and was put in a concentration camp. However, she survived, against all odds, and became known as “the most optimistic woman in the world.”
People admired Alice for her enthusiasm. Despite her advanced age, she played the piano every single day. As she approached the age of 100, she decided to study at the university. She never lost her desire to learn and grow. Alice Herz-Sommer is a wonderful example of a long life with optimism from which we can all learn something.
Alice Herz-Sommer’s happy childhood
One thing that many resilient people have in common is a happy childhood. Alice Herz-Sommer was born in Prague, Czech Republic, on November 26, 1903. She came from a family of Jewish musicians who valued art and culture.
The most famous artists and intellectual people of the time were often guests in Alice’s home. Franz Kafka was a regular guest. Alice’s sister even married this literary genius’ best friend. Other celebrities like Gustav Mahler, Rainer Maria Rilke, Stefan Zweig, Thomas Mann, and even Sigmund Freud, visited the Herz family.
Alice loved music from a very early age. She started playing the piano when she was 8 years old. When she was a teenager, she played concerts all over Prague.
In 1931, Alice Herz met Leopold Sommer, who was also a musician. They got married and he was the great love of her life. In 1937 they had their first son, Raphael. However, luck was short-lived when the Nazis invaded the Czech Republic in 1939.
While most Jews were sent to the ghetto, Alice and her family were, at that time, allowed to stay in their apartment.
Still, everything quickly became difficult. As the war progressed, the Czech Republic began to discriminate against the Jews. In 1942, Alice’s mother and Leopold’s parents received deportation letters. It broke the family.
Alice had to accompany her 72-year-old mother to a deportation center. They said goodbye, and Alice saw her go, knowing that her mother was destined for certain death. This moment of helplessness was one of the most heartbreaking in Alice’s life. Decades later, the memory of the mother would still make her melancholy and sad.
Life as a prisoner
Several deportation orders came after this. In 1943, Alice Herz-Sommer, her husband and son received theirs. They were sent to the concentration camp, Theresienstadt. In theory, the prisoners there would not be killed. It turned out to be a lie.
At camp, Alice began playing the piano for the Nazis. While eating dinner for Alice’s beautiful concerts, they planned methods to exterminate the prisoners. Alice also played for her fellow prisoners. She believed that in all, she had played more than 150 concerts there. She said her music nourished the tormented souls of the camp prisoners.
Later, her husband was transferred to Auschwitz. When they said goodbye, he said to her, ” Never volunteer for anything!” A few days later, the Nazis asked for some “volunteers” who wanted to be reunited with their husbands.
Alice remembered Leopold’s advice and turned down the offer – saving her own life. Alice used to say that the worst thing about this whole experience was watching her son starve. She always tried to smile to make up for this.