Lifestyle & Belief

World's oldest Holocaust survivor Alice Herz-Sommer: 'Music saved my life'

Alice Herz-Sommer lost most of her family in the Holocaust.

On Sunday, her family lost her.

Herz-Sommer, the world's oldest Holocaust survivor, died at the age of 110.

An acclaimed pianist, she was once one of the many musicians forced to play more than 100 concerts for guards and other prisoners at the Theresienstadt concentration camp in what is now the Czech Republic.

Tens of thousands of Jews and other minorities died there. But Herz-Sommer and her son survived despite years of hard labor and a diet of watery "soup." They were liberated by the Russians in 1945.

Friends and family remembered Herz-Sommer as a bright spirit whose strength never faltered

"We lost weight. People ask, 'How could you make music?' We were so weak. But music was special, like a spell, I would say," she once recalled of her time at Theresienstadt.

Many prisoners would have died earlier had they not come to hear the music, she told Haaretz. "As we would have," she added.

Born in Prague on Nov. 26, 1903, Herz-Sommer learned the piano from her sister at age 5.

She went on to study under Vaclav Stepan and at the Prague German Conservatory of Music, where she was the youngest pupil.

After marrying Leopold Sommer in 1931, she began to make a name for herself across Europe until the Nazis took over Prague. Then she and her family were sent to Theresienstadt, also known as Terezin.

After regaining her freedom, she went to Israel in 1949 and taught music. The later half of her life was spent in a London flat.

As for how and why she survived when so many did not, Herz-Sommer had this to say:

"My temperament. This optimism and this discipline. Punctually, at 10 a.m., I am sitting there at the piano, with everything in order around me. For 30 years I have eaten the same, fish or chicken. Good soup, and this is all. I don't drink, not tea, not coffee, not alcohol. Only hot water. I walked and swam a lot."

Herz-Sommer became the subject of the documentary, "The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life," which has been nominated for an Academy Award.