Obituary: Alice Herz-Sommer (1903-2014)

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By Natalie Carragher

On Sunday 23rd February, Alice Herz-Sommer passed away in London, aged 110. Alice was the oldest Holocaust Survivor.

Her grandson, Ariel Sommer, broke the news of her death, saying, “Alice Sommer passed away peacefully this morning with her family by her bedside. Much has been written about her, but to those of us who knew her best, she was our dear ‘Gigi’.”

In an emotional statement, Ariel went on to describe his grandmother as an inspirational woman whose passing has left his family’s world significantly poorer without her by their side.

Alice was a survivor of the Theresienstadt concentration camp in Germany. In July 1943, Alice and her son, separated from her husband and mother, were sent to the camp. She never saw her mother or husband again.

Alice was a talented pianist and during her time confined in the camp she played concerts for both the prisoners and guards. She explained that music kept her alive and was “our food.”

Both Alice and her son were liberated from Theresienstadt in May 1945. After the war, she was moved to Israel to be with her sisters. She taught music in Tel Aviv before moving to London to be with her son. Alice was known not only for being the oldest Holocaust survivor and an incredibly talented musician, but more recently, for the Oscar-nominated film documentary of her life story. The documentary, The Lady in Number 6, is currently nominated for an Academy Award for ‘Best Short Documentary’ at next weekend’s Academy Awards.

Alice Herz-Sommer’s passing, alongside her connection to the Holocaust, is undeniably a poignant mark in history. Alice was aged 46 when the camps were liberated. She endured immense pain and suffering yet remained an inspiration to the lives she touched, finding strength in her music. Her extraordinary character and ability to overcome the darkest depths of history is truly remarkable.

“Life is beautiful, extremely beautiful. And when you are old you appreciate it more. When you are older you think, you remember, you care and you appreciate. You are thankful for everything. For everything.” – Alice Herz-Sommer in 2003, on age and life.

For those interested in learning more about the Holocaust and in particular, survivors’ personal stories, this Wednesday 26th February will see survivor Joanna Millan give a guest lecture at Manchester Met. Students and staff will have the opportunity to listen to Joanna Millan share her own personal experiences of her time spent in Theresienstadt as a child and her experience of moving to Britain and hiding her Jewish identity.

The MMU History Society is working alongside the Holocaust Educational Trust to bring the University community this event, which is not to be missed. All proceeds are being donated to the Holocaust Educational Trust. The last few tickets are available on the MMU online shop.

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aAh! Magazine is Manchester Metropolitan University's arts and culture magazine.

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