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Alice Herz-Sommer: Resources

Mueller, Melissa and Reinhard Piechocki. A Garden of Eden in Hell: The Life of Alice Herz-Sommer (McMillan, UK, 2008). Alice Herz-Sommer was born in 1903 in Prague—the Prague of the Hapsburgs and of Franz Kafka, a family friend. Musically very gifted, by her mid-teens Alice was one of the best-known pianists in Prague. But as the Nazis … Continued

Mueller, Melissa and Reinhard Piechocki. A Garden of Eden in Hell: The Life of Alice Herz-Sommer (McMillan, UK, 2008).

Alice Herz-Sommer was born in 1903 in Prague—the Prague of the Hapsburgs and of Franz Kafka, a family friend. Musically very gifted, by her mid-teens Alice was one of the best-known pianists in Prague. But as the Nazis swept across Europe her comfortable, bourgeois world began to crumble around her, as anti-Jewish feeling not only intensified but was legitimized. In 1942, Alice’s mother was deported. Desperately unhappy, she resolved to learn Chopin’s 24 Etudes—the most technically demanding piano pieces she knew—and the complex but beautiful music saved her sanity. A year later, she, too—together with her husband and their six-year-old son—was deported to a concentration camp. But even in Theresienstadt, music was her salvation and in the course of more than 100 concerts she gave her fellow prisoners hope in a world of pain and death. This is her remarkable story, but it is also the story of a mother’s struggle to create a happy childhood for her beloved only son in the midst of atrocity and barbarism. Of 15,000 children sent to the camp, Raphael was one of the 130 who survived. Today, Alice Herz-Sommer lives in London and she still plays the piano every day.

Everything is a Present: The Wonder & Grace of Alice Sommer Hertz (2010), Director: Christopher Nupen, Running Time: 55 minutes.

How many people remain in good shape, both mentally and physically, at the age of 106? The answer, of course, is very few but, as I write this on her 106th birthday, Alice Sommer Herz is among those exceptional few. And how many have the gift of forgiveness? And how many are free of hatred? Gigi Sommer has both of those qualities. I have never met anyone else with her depth of perception and natural wisdom. She was imprisoned, with her six-year-old son, in the Theresienstadt concentration camp and saw unspeakable atrocities. She lost both her mother and her husband in Nazi death camps but she does not hate her persecutors. That is not because they are anything other than monstrous criminals but because she has the wisdom to know that all hatred hurts the soul of the hater, not the hated and Gigi Sommer’s inspiring soul is among the things which she has kept intact and unblemished through her hundred and six years. She was a pianist of distinction, played more than 100 concerts in the Theresienstadt camp and is in no doubt that music saved both her sanity and her life and the lives of many others in those unimaginable circumstances. She elaborates on this theme in the film. — Christopher Nupen

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