The harrowing tale of a Czech concert pianist’s survival at the Theresienstadt concentration camp.
At 108 years old in 2011, Alice Herz-Sommer is the world’s oldest living Holocaust survivor, residing in Jerusalem since the Communist regime forced her from her Prague home in 1949. In this novelistic reconstruction of her life by her friend Piechocki and journalist Müller (Anne Frank: The Biography, 1998, etc.), Herz-Sommer is portrayed as the stronger-willed of twin girls born to a mismatched German-speaking Jewish couple in Prague in 1903. From a young age she was determined to master the piano. Her older sister included her twin sisters in visits with other German-speaking Jewish friends who formed the intellectual literary Prague Circle—e.g., Max Brod, Oskar Baum and Franz Kafka. A student at the German Academy of Music after World War I, Herz became a notable concert pianist and teacher, married businessman Leopold Sommer and had a son, Stephan, by the time the Nazis marched into Prague in 1939. While many of her family emigrated to Palestine, the Sommers remained in Prague, only to see their lives drained bit by bit. First, Herz’s elderly mother was deported to Theresienstadt, after which she taught herself the Chopin Etudes out of despair; then the Sommers were deported as well in 1943. At the camp, Alice became a sought-after pianist for the many musical productions organized by the Free Time Organization, while Stephan was enlisted in children’s choruses. Herz would often play the Chopin Etudes in concerts for the inmates, while Stephan acted in the SS propaganda film made to show the world what a “ghetto paradise” the camp was. Meanwhile, transports continued, Leopold was deported to Auschwitz and Theresienstadt was rumored to be evacuated. However, Alice was allowed to stay, giving her last concert at the camp in 1945.
A miraculous journey of mother and son for whom music provided strength and nourishment.