Tributes have been paid to world’s oldest Holocaust survivor, a gifted pianist who lived in London and who spoke of how life is “beautiful” in spite of suffering terrible losses at the hands of the Nazis.
Alice Herz-Sommer, who was originally from Prague, but lived in London, died aged 110 years old.
The concert pianist was imprisoned with her son for two years in the Theresienstadt concentration camp, a staging post for tens of thousands of inmates who were shipped off to their deaths in other camps.
The Nazis imprisoned intellectuals, film makers, scientists and artists in the “show camp” where there were Red Cross inspections. Ms Herz-Sommer told the Guardian in 2006 that she gave more than 150 concerts there.
“We had to play music because the Red Cross came and the Germans were trying to show what a good life we had,” she told the newspaper.
“It was our luck, actually. Even so, hundreds and hundreds were dying around us every day. It was a hard time.”
She also saw both her mother and her husband transported to Auschwitz and never saw them again.
The concert pianist, who knew the existentialist writer Kafka as a child and whose mother had known the composer Gustav Mahler later spoke of how she had such a “beautiful life”.
A documentary about her, The Lady In Number 6: Music Saved My Life, is up for the best short documentary at the Academy Awards next weekend.
Speaking on the film’s website, she said: “I am Jewish, but Beethoven is my religion. I am no longer myself. The body cannot resist as it did in the past.
“I think I am in my last days but it doesn’t really matter because I have had such a beautiful life.
“And life is beautiful, love is beautiful, nature and music are beautiful. Everything we experience is a gift, a present we should cherish and pass on to those we love.”
Frederic Bohbot, director of the film, told BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “She is the most incredible person I have ever met. I think she had no material desires, she was very curious about everyone and she had no hatred in her. She loved everyone in so many ways.”
Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said her death was a reminder of the importance of making sure that the horrors of the Holocaust are not forgotten:
“With the passing of Alice Herz-Sommer, we are once again reminded that Holocaust survivors will not be with us for ever. We must all take on the responsibility to ensure that the horrors they endured are never forgotten. Our thoughts are with her family,” she said.
Her grandson, Ariel Sommer, said: “Alice Sommer passed away peacefully this morning with her family by her bedside.
“Much has been written about her, but to those of us who knew her best, she was our dear ‘Gigi’.
“She loved us, laughed with us, and cherished music with us.
“She was an inspiration and our world will be significantly poorer without her by our side. We mourn her loss and ask for privacy in this very difficult moment.”