The world’s oldest known Holocaust survivor, who inspired an Oscar-nominated documentary about her extraordinary life, has died aged 110. Born in a Jewish family in Prague in 1903, Alice Herz-Sommer, an accomplished pianist and music teacher, spent two years in a Nazi concentration camp in Terezin.
A film about the centenarian titled ‘The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life’ has been nominated for best short documentary at next month’s Academy Awards. Herz-Sommer died in a hospital on Sunday, days after she was admitted with an infection. She taught at the Jerusalem Conservatory until 1986, when she moved to London, the BBC reported. “We all came to believe that she would just never die,” said Frederic Bohbot, producer of the documentary on her.
Herz-Sommer is believed to have continued playing Schubert and Beethoven until her final days. “I am Jewish, but Beethoven is my religion. I am no longer myself. The body cannot resist as it did in the past,” Herz-Sommer wrote on the film’s website. “I think I am in my last days, but it does not really matter because I have had such a beautiful life,” she wrote.
Herz-Sommer recalled “always laughing” during her time in Terezin. She said the joy of making music had kept their spirits up. “These concerts, the people are sitting there, old people, desolate 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,” she once recalled. Herz-Sommer and her son, Stephan, were among less than 20,000 people who were freed when Terezin was liberated by the
Soviet army in May 1945.
Her husband, whom she married in 1931, died of typhus at Dachau, a Nazi concentration camp in southern Germany. Around 140,000 Jews were sent to Terezin and 33,430 died there, the report said.