Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Remarkable Woman

Last night I watched a programme which had been recorded when Alice Sommer Hertz was 98. She is now 106 and living in London. When she was over 100 years of age she was going to the University three times a week for the Third Age. She is a concert pianist and survivor of Nazi concentration camps. Born in Prague to a family of musicians (her mother played with Gustave Mahler as a child) She lost most of her loved ones in the Holocaust but listening to Alice speak passionately of her love of music –‘it is our language – it is our food’ with her eternal optimism – ‘Life is beautiful – extremely beautiful’ was an uplifting and inspiring experience.

Almost every night she dreams of the moment when she and her child and all the other women from Theresienstadt were marched into a field and told to line up in rows of ten. In the distance they could see their men folk and they were never to see them again. The women stood in the bitter cold waiting to be shot and then a Czech voice rang out with the order:

‘Back to the Ghetto!’ and she said that from being Hell the ghetto became Paradise. Asked many times what one feels when one knows it is one’s last moment on earth she said there is no fear – just blackness – a black curtain comes down.

Interspersed throughout the programme she played the piano - she practises two and a half hours every day and said the German composers were geniuses. She didn’t want to ever speak of the atrocities that were committed but said it was extremely hard to have a child who is always hungry and not be able to feed him. She had no hate in her heart for Germans but said Hitler was a mad man and she could never understand why people had followed him. She maintained that if Hitler had listened to two bars of the music he would have hated less.

In the ghetto were a band of musicians and throughout all the privation and suffering the music gave them joy – they were healthy because of playing the music every night

‘It is the most beautiful thing that life can bring you. To my last day I will believe it helped me and made my life beautiful – it made me happy.’

Alice believed that her twin sister would not have had such a short life if she had not been a pessimist. She told Alice that it was a terrible world and when she died in Israel Alice came to live in London. Alice said three things were her religion.

#1 The love of a mother for her child

#2 The joy of nature.

#3 The joy of music. ‘We speak about music and we are happy.’

Asked what she has learned:

That she is grateful to her mother for telling her to learn, learn, and learn and to be thankful for everything – everything is a present. ‘Fill your life with beauty. Life is extremely beautiful – nature is beautiful and love is beautiful. Work the brain.’

Her beloved son also a gifted musician – a cellist - died aged 67.

Aged 104 Alice became famous with the publication of her book ‘The Garden of Eden in Hell’. I tried to find a you tube of Alice playing but there was only the whole programme, so below is Beethoven – one of her geniuses


The Cloudcutter said...

How lovely and inspiring! Thanks so much for sharing.

Pat said...

Cloud cutter: I admire her spirit so much.

Four Dinners said...

I'm speechless - it does happen.

I'm off to google her.

What a magnificent human being!!!!

Maybe there is hope eh?

Four Dinners said...

Apparently she doesn't rent cars...;-)'s Herz...soz...just being me...;-)

The link below is 48 minutes long so I'm off for a listen. Anyone else want to listen here you go.

Amazing lady!!!!

R. Sherman said...

Thanks for the information. (BTW, Terezin was the Czech name; because it was a model camp, it was a haven for musicians and artists among others. Many years after the war, a cache of drawings and paintings was discovered with detailed the true life in that ghetto. The inmates had hidden them away, hoping to preserve the memories of what happened for the future if they didn't make it. There's an out-of-print book which tells the story and has a collection of prints. Very moving, if you can find it.)

Pat said...

Four.D; she definitely gives me hope. I hope you can find where she is actually playing the piano. She played old vinyl records of mine that I haven't heard for years.
Thank you for the link. I have spent most of today following up leads.

Randall: I'll see what I can do. The book she wrote is on Amazon.

Pat said...

Four:d I think that is what I watched. Enjoy. Her silences are as meaningful as her conversation.

St Jude said...

A true 'survivor' and an inspiration. Thank you Pat.

Eryl Shields said...

Ooh, I'm going to zip over to iplayer and have a look, she sounds wonderful. Thanks Pat, X

Leah said...

This is absolutely fascinating, very moving.

One thing to add though--Hitler passionately loved music, was tremendously moved by it all through his life. Awfully hard to reconcile that fact with who he was.

Pat said...

St Jude: it has given me shot in the arm. Coming up to a big birthday I have been getting into my night things - figuratively speaking but Alice has opened another chapter.

Eryl: I'm sure you will see what I'm talking about.

Leah; she speaks with such utter
conviction - maybe she meant two particular bars. It's difficult when I don't do shorthand to absorb everything correctly.
She did speak of a time when a Nazi lived above her and knocked on the ceiling when she was playing so she stopped. Later she heard that he loved to hear her play and so continued to do so.
When she was taken away he expressed his gratitude and said how much her playing had meant to him and wished her well and a safe return. Everybody is good and bad she said - no-one is an angel.

Sylvia said...

Listening to this lady was truly inspirational. Her philosophy of life was so beautiful,simple and yet so hard for most of us to follow. If we could, the world would be healed.
I am inspired to read her books as, I'm sure , aremany of us.
Telling her story to some friends today, touched their hearts and, as it circulates in the near future, many more will be both humbled, inspired and uplifted .

Sylvia said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Granny Annie said...

This is not a story I had heard and it gave me goose bumps. Thank you for sharing it. I have always loved Viktor Frankl's MAN'S SEARCH FOR MEANING as he describes survival in a concentration camp. There is a personality that better adapts to bringing about one's survival in times of tribulation.

Pat said...

Sylvis: I have ordered her book and look forward to reading it.

Granny Annie: one wonders how one would have coped - let alone survive.

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

What an inspiring woman! I agree with her about Music....I know what it has meant and still means, in my life!
I am always amazed by these stories of people who survuved The Camps---And come through it without bitterness...! I hope they show that program here---I would love to see it and hear her play the piano and speak about her life.

Pat said...

Naomi: the link that Four D gave in his comment above should give you the programme. I think they keep it available for a week so don't delay.
I'll just give it a try and seeif it works
Here is the link:

kenju said...

I think there is much to learn from this woman, and not only about music!! How inspiring.

Pat said...

Judy: I still can get it on my computer and I love the simplicity of what she says and how she says it.

Madame DeFarge said...

Lovely to hear about this. Need to see if I can get it on iPlayer or similar - one of the problems of not having a TV during the week.

Pat said...

Madame D: if you google:
you will get it as long as you do it before the week is up.