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Mon February 24, 2014
Around the Nation

Alice Herz-Sommer, Pianist And Holocaust Survivor, Dies At 110

Originally published on Mon February 24, 2014 8:02 pm

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Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel. A concert pianist believed to be the oldest survivor of the Holocaust died yesterday in London. Alice Herz-Sommer was 110 years old. As NPR's Mandalit Del Barco reports, she's the subject of a film that's up for an Academy Award this weekend.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: Despite the cruel hardship she lived through, Herz-Sommer always believed life was beautiful.

ALICE HERZ-SOMMER: Every day, it's beautiful.

BARCO: In the film, "The Lady in Number 6," she talks about her life.

HERZ-SOMMER: I am full of joy in my house, for instance. I am the only one who is laughing.

BARCO: She says her positivity and music pulled her spirit through the Holocaust.

HERZ-SOMMER: I felt that this is the only thing which helps me to have hope.

BARCO: Herz-Sommer was born into a German-speaking Jewish family in Prague when it was still a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. As a child, she knew Franz Kafka and Gustav Mahler. She took piano lessons from a protege of Franz Liszt. She was teaching piano and performing when she met her husband. They had a son, Rafael.

But when Hitler occupied Czechoslovakia, the three of them were sent to Theresienstad, a way station for Jews being sent to the death camps. It was also a show camp for the Nazis. There, Herz-Sommer and other musicians were able to give concerts. She played hundreds of compositions by memory.

HERZ-SOMMER: And as (unintelligible) can play, it can't be so terrible. The music, the music. Music is at the first place of art. It brings us on an island with peace, beauty and love.

NICK REED: She would always find a gem in what everyone else would see as bad.

BARCO: Nick Reed is executive producer of the film that's nominated for a short documentary Oscar.

REED: One of her famous quotes is, you know, I will never hate because hatred only brings hatred and again that speaks to her feeling that that's just a waste of energy, that doesn't help you lead a happy life whatsoever.

BARCO: In 1944, Herz-Sommer's husband was sent to Auschwitz and then Dachau where he died. After the war ended, she lived in Israel and later London at the urging of her son who became a concert cellist. When he died at the age of 64, she again found comfort in music.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BARCO: Here she is in 2006. In fact, into her 90s, Herz-Sommers swam and walked every day and played the piano, her same repertoire of Schubert, Schumann, Bach and Beethoven and Chopin on the piano - her favorite repertoire.

HERZ-SOMMER: Music is a dream. Music is a dream.

BARCO: Pianist Alice Herz-Sommer, gone at the age of 110. Mandalit Del Barco, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.