According to Genevieve Sommer, Herz-Sommer’s daughter-in-law, Alice was admitted into the hospital on Friday, Feb. 21. A film about Alice Herz-Sommer has been nominated for best short documentary at next week’s Academy Awards.
Frederic Bohbot, the producer of the documentary, “The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life”, said, “We all came to believe that she would just never die. There was no question in my mind, would she ever see the Oscars.”
In 1943, Herz-Sommer, her husband and her son were taken from Prague to a concentration camp in the Czech city of Terezin. She passed her time in the concentration camp by playing the piano and starring in stage concerts they were allowed to perform while being kept in the prison camp.
Approximately 140,000 Jews were sent to the concentration camp in Terezin and 33,430 of those died there. About 88,000 were transferred to Auschwitz and other death camps. The majority of those people were killed with less than 20,000 being freed.
Herz-Sommer and her son, Stephan, were a part of the 20,000 set free when the camp was liberated in May 1945 by the Soviet army.
Her music was what kept her going and “always laughing” during her years at Terezin. She described the concerts they gave by saying, “These concerts, the people are sitting there, old people, desolated and ill, and they came to the concerts and this music was for them our food.”
“Music was our food. Through making music we were kept alive. When we can play it cannot be so terrible.”
Herz-Sommer never found out where her mother had died but her husband died at Dachau of typhus. She married her husband, Leopold Sommer in 1930. Their son, Stephan was born in 1937 just two years before the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia.
During that time Alice said, “This was especially for Jews a very, very hard time. I didn’t mind, because I enjoyed to be [sic] a mother and I was full of enthusiasm about being a mother, so I didn’t mind so much.”
Speaking of her own mother, Alice said that when her mom was 73 she was sent to Terezin. Only a few months later, she was sent to Treblinka which was an extermination camp.
Alice described those times, “And I went with her [her mother] of course till the last moment. This was the lowest point in my life. She was sent away.”
“Till now I don’t know where she was, till now I don’t know when she died, nothing. When I went home from bringing her to this place I remember I had to stop in the middle of the street and I listened to a voice, an inner voice.”
“Now, nobody can help you, not your husband, not your little child, not the doctor.”
Alice Herz-Sommer’s son changed his name to Raphael after the war. He went on to become a concert cellist and died in 2001.
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