Alice Herz Sommer, who at 110, was known as the oldest-living Holocaust survivor and the subject of the Oscar nominated short subject documentary Lady in Number 6: How Music Saved My Life, died today in London, according to the Israeli newspaper YNET, who confirmed the passing with her grandson. YNET is one of the country’s leading daily newspapers. Herz Sommer survived a Nazi concentration camp and used music to empower herself and others. She was a concert pianist, who initially was mentored by her sister and went on to study with the noted pianist Vaclav Stephan. The story about Herz Sommer and her uplifting philosophy about how to live a happy life despite enduring pain was made into a film directed by Malcom Clarke and produced by Nicholas Reed. The film, which was shot over the past two and a half years, was nominated for an Oscar last month.
“All of us are in shock. Alice had such a strong life force and her spirit was so strong that I could never imagine her not being around,” said Lady in No. 6’s producer Nicholas Reed. “She had been sick a few times over the last few years, but her indomitable spirit always pulled her through. The fact that we were able to capture Alice’s lessons for all the generations to come makes us feel very proud.” Reed said that he and others on the crew, when things got tough, would always ask among themselves, ‘What would Alice say? “So in that spirit, I am sad but I am happy that she had such a full life, a life that helped and inspired so many people, that brought such beauty into the world.”
She was not only an accomplished concert pianist but also a music teacher in Prague who became a prisoner in Theresienstadt after Nazis invaded her country in 1943. Her mother, her husband and their six year-old son were transported to concentration camps where her husband and her mother perished. Alice, however, was saved because she knew how to play the piano and was able to perform recitals. After she and her boy were liberated, she returned to her work as a concert pianist. In her lifetime, she was thrilled to have met Gustav Mahler and Franz Kafka. In the film, She was portrayed as having a wonderful sense of humor and curiosity about everything around her and a love of life. YNET, quoting the grandson, said that she got sick on Thursday and died this morning in the hospital with all of her family and closest friends gathered around her.
The 38-minute documentary, which was produced by Reed and director Clarke, began its theatrical release in 100 specialty theaters in select markets just last week on Feb. 21. It is also set for playdates internationally.
Her son, Raphael, also survived Theresiendstadt as well and became a notable cellist — in fact, a concert cellist. He would later die, too, leaving his mother behind. Her grandson put together a fund to give a music scholarship in the name of his father (Alice’s son). The family many years ago set up a fund to give scholarships to up and coming cellists; donations can be made via raphaelsommer.com. She is survived by her grandsons David Sommer, Ariel Sommer and her son Raphael’s widow (her daughter-in-law) Genevieve Sommer.