one of this year’s resolutions is to write about people who inspire me. persons who I consider can be role models for me and others, who have changed this world for the better and continue to do so. and the lady I have decided to dedicate this article to fits perfectly into this category of outstanding personalities.
Alice Herz-Sommer passed away on February 23rd, 2014, at her home in north london, at the venerable age of 110. but, despite the fact that this alone could stand as a great achievement, it is merely a side effect of her being the hero of my article. Alice was, until some two months ago, the oldest living known survivor of the holocaust, but that is not at the very centre of this post either. perhaps it is time I made myself, and everything else with it, more clear. born in prague in 1903, in a family of 5 children, Alice had the chance of being brought up by her mother in the spirit of a continuous desire to learn, to know, and to play. music, that is. and not just play it. dream of and about it, live for and surrounded by it. love it. and as it sometimes happens, the thing she loved the most ended up saving her life.
when she was 39, Alice was taken, alongside her husband, mother and son, to theresienstadt, a feeder concentration camp for auschwitz, where the fact that she could continue to play piano, even if in such harsh and even inhumane conditions, gave her hope and in the end managed to save her, and her son, from the gas chambers that killed other almost 35 000 prisoners. and this is not what strikes the most. the almost surreal fact is that she held no hatred at all towards those who had murdered her mother and husband. after all, how else could her mindset have been with a family name like Herz (heart in german)?
an optimist not just by nature but most of all by choice, Alice decided to look at the bright side of things throughout her entire life.
some very short time after having moved to london in 1989 (at the age of 86!), she survived a cancer operation and the illness itself, she went swimming every day until she was 93, tried to go on foot as much as she could wherever she needed to go, and loved people. loved talking to them, getting to know them, laughing with them. and she continued to play and love music, that thing that had saved her life half a century before.
always in a good mood and focusing on the positive things in life, no matter how “small” those were, Alice stands as a remarkable example of how powerful the force of happiness, kindness and love is and how great an impact these have on one’s existence.
the lady in number 6 is a documentary film about Alice Herz-Sommer that won an oscar on march 2nd 2014 for the best short subject documentary. you can rent/buy it here.