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Oldest Holocaust Survivor Dies at 110

Alice Herz-Sommer featured in Oscar-nominated film, The Lady in Number 6

Lily Wilf
February 24, 2014
Alice Herz-Sommer.(AP)
Alice Herz-Sommer.(AP)

The world’s oldest Holocaust survivor, Alice Herz-Sommer, has died at the age of 110 in London. Her devotion to music, which helped her survive two years in a Nazi concentration camp, is the subject of this year’s Oscar-nominated documentary, The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life. Amidst the horrors of the Holocaust, Herz-Sommer maintained her unflappable optimism through music, becoming so completely immersed in it that she once said, “I am Jewish, but Beethoven is my religion.”

Herz-Sommer was born in 1903 in Prague, when it was part of Austria-Hungary, and lived there until 1943 when she was deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp. Her impressive musical career began at a young age; she learned to play the piano at age five and was the youngest student enrolled at the Prague German Conservatory of Music. Herz-Sommer’s musical talent became known across Europe, and upon her arrival in Theresienstadt, she performed music for camp prisoners and guards.

Herz-Sommer, whose husband Leopold Sommer died of typhus in Dachau in 1944, was liberated from Theresienstadt in 1945 with her son Raphael. The pair returned briefly to Prague and then immigrated to Israel where Herz-Sommer lived for nearly 40 years, working as a music teacher at the Jerusalem Academy of Music. In 1986, she moved to London, where she lived—and practiced three hours of piano a day—until her death on Sunday.

Whether or not Herz-Sommer’s story wins Best Documentary Short this Sunday at the 86th Academy Awards, her vibrant legacy is sure to be remembered.

Lily Wilf is an editorial intern at Tablet.