A 110-year-old woman believed to be the oldest survivor of the Holocaust and who endured the ordeal partly through her passion for music, has died in London, her family said on Sunday.
Alice Herz-Sommer, who is said to have counted writer Franz Kafka among her family friends and is the subject of an Oscar-nominated documentary, was a Jewish pianist and musician from Prague in what is today the Czech Republic.
In 1943, the Nazis sent her and her young son to Theresienstadt concentration camp, where tens of thousands of people lost their lives.
Neither her husband Leopold nor her mother Sofie survived the second world war, but she and her son did. Around 140,000 Jews were sent to the Terezin camp, of whom 33,430 died.
Her grandson, Ariel Sommer, confirmed her death in London on Sunday, 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’.
He added: “She loved us, laughed with us, and cherished music with us. She was an inspiration and our world will be significantly poorer without her by our side.”
Herz-Sommer was born in Prague in 1903. She and her son Raphael were freed from Nazi captivity in 1945 when the Soviet Red Army liberated their camp, and emigrated to Israel before settling in Britain.
Raphael, an accomplished cellist and conductor, died in 2001.
A documentary film, The Lady in Number 6, covers Herz-Sommer’s life and has been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Short Documentary at the forthcoming Oscars.
Malcolm Clark, the film’s director, and Nick Reed, its producer, said in a statement that telling her story had been a life-changing experience for the crew and they felt honoured to have been able to capture her “lessons” for future generations.
“Even as her energy slowly diminished, her bright sprit never faltered,” they said. “Her life force was so strong, we could never imagine her not being around. We can all learn so much from this most amazing woman.”
Herz-Sommer, who along with other musicians gave concerts in the concentration camp to keep up her spirits and those of people around her, said before she died that Beethoven was her religion and that music had saved her life and still saved her.
She famously said she bore no grudges and saw her life as a wonderful gift.
In a text about her on the website of Reed, the documentary’s producer, she was quoted before her death as saying she remained upbeat about life despite sensing she was coming to the end of it.
“I think I am in my last days, but it doesn’t really matter because I have had such a beautiful life,” she said. “I have lived through many wars and have lost everything many times - including my husband, my mother and my beloved son. Yet, life is beautiful, and I have so much to learn and enjoy. I have no space nor time for pessimism and hate.
“Life is beautiful, love is beautiful, nature and music are beautiful. Everything we experience is a gift, a present we should cherish and pass on to those we love.”
With additional reporting from AFP