The Inspiring Alice Herz-Sommer
Dancing Under the Gallows
“I have lived through many wars and have lost everything many times – including my husband, my mother and my beloved son. Yet, life is beautiful, and I have so much to learn and enjoy. I have no space nor time for pessimism and hate.” ~Alice Herz-Sommer
About to turn 107 (on November 26, 2010), Alice is the oldest survivor of the holocaust and the second oldest person living in London, England. She was a renowned concert pianist and a close friend of Franz Kafka. She has seen and lived through more than you can imagine. And despite all she’s experienced, her extraordinary optimism and attitude is what stands out the most.
Some of our favorite Alice Herz-Sommer quotes:
“Music saved my life and Music saves me still.”
“I am Jewish, but Beethoven is my religion.”
“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”.
“Only when we are so old, only then we are aware of the beauty of life.”
“Music is God. In difficult times you feel it, especially when you are suffering.”
“I never hate. Hatred brings only hatred.”
Here are a couple of older BBC Radio interviews with Alice Herz-Sommer:
Alice Sommer Interview Part 1 – BBC Radio
Alice Sommer Interview Part 2 – BBC Radio
Transcript of Dancing Under the Gallows Trailer
One of the big benefits of living in this block is having classical music beautifully played morning and afternoon. In fact, I know people who have been used to standing outside the building in the street listening to her…and just admiring her playing. And she still plays every day.
To the residents of this small apartment building in North London, Alice Sommer is simply the lady in number six.
My world is music. I am not interested in anything else.
She has her health, her friends, and her music. And at 106, she feels she’s one of the luckiest people alive. Alice receives visitors every afternoon…people who come to hear her stories and learn from her experience.
I love people. I love everyone…I love people. I love to speak with them. I’m interested in the life of other people.
Alice is the oldest holocaust survivor in the world.
Beethoven…he is a miracle. His music is not only melody…what is inside…what is inside…how it’s filled…it’s full. It is intensive…phenomenal.
In 1942, Alice was a well-known concert pianist living in Prague. At age 39, she was deported to the Nazi concentration camp. Theresienstadt was a purgatory for artists. Designed by the nazis to deceive the international community, it’s purpose was to show the world how well the jews of Europe were being treated by their nazi captors. Under constant threat of extermination, starving prisoners were permitted to paint, to perform and make music.
For propaganda purposes, Theresienstadt was the only camp in which children were not taken from their parents. Alice had been deported with her little boy, Raffi.
I knew that we will play…and I was thinking when we can play it can’t be so terrible. The music, the music!
“Ahhh, here they are…”
“Ah, so how is it going?”
“This is my very good Sunday friend. She comes every Sunday.”
Alice’s friends are Danker and Aniter (sp?) are also holocaust survivors. And like Alice, music was essential to their survival in the camps.
But if every day in life is beautiful, every day…you can speak about everything…it’s beautiful.
In Theresienstadt, Alice gave more than 100 concerts, performing all of Chopin’s Etudes from memory.
It was my first time actually I have heard all of Chopin’s Etudes. And I remember Alice sitting on the stage…I was in about the 3rd row, and saw her from the right profile. And I was quite captivated…it was magic to hear this music in that kind of surrounding…which you don’t realize until it’s over. So, you come back to earth and see where you are…and how much it was moral support and not entertainment…as most people think we were having fun. It had a much bigger value.
I felt that this is the only thing which helps me to have hope…it’s a sort of religion actually. Music is…is God. In difficult times you feel it, especially when you are suffering.
Alice’s faith and inspiration were passed on to her son Raffi, who sang in Theresienstadt’s children’s opera, Brundibar. Alice’s undiminished optimism gave him strength…and he too survived.
We are sleeping on the mattress, in fact my body. When a child is near to the mother, everything can happen…he is not afraid. It gives him a security. And I was always loving…even there I was loving.
So the people who were sitting in the audience, we were transported to a different time…the time before, when we lived in a normal civil life, civilized well, and hoping and being convinced that the war will soon finish and we will go back home and it will go on. But of course, what we knew later, the Germans knew full well, that we are sentenced to death, and thought…let them play…let them laugh. The laughter will soon vanish from their face…and we were dancing under the gallows.
Sometimes it happens that I am thankful to have been there because this gave me a…I am richer than other people. My reaction on life…to despite another one, oh to complain, “this is terrible,”…It’s not so terrible.
My father always used to say the very wise words, “Put as much as you can into your heads because it’s something nobody can take away from you.” And I think that is so very very true. And I think this is where music comes in…the importance of music…because you can actually have music in your head without anybody knowing it is happening. You can actually go into another world, which is a lot nicer than the world we’re actually living in.
I can say without hesitation that the cello saved my life because I knew what was going in Auschwitz. So, I arrived in Auschwitz really preparing to go in the gas chamber. I mean that was Auschwitz, it was gas chambers. Instead of that, when arrived there…you people take your clothes of you, shave your head, and tattoo a number on your arm. And this is all number of prisoners. And one of these said, “What’s going on? How long is the war going? Where…” you know, so…”what’s your name? Where do you come from? What did you do before you were arrested?” And like an idiot I said, “I used to play the cello.”…you know, a really ridiculous thing to say. And he said, “Oh fantastic, you’ll be saved.” So, I became in my orchestra, which was completely lifesaving, because as long as they wanted music, they couldn’t put us in the gas chamber, you know. There’s a certain amount of logic in the Germans.
A lot of German journalists come and want to know, speak with me so before they enter my room, they ask, “Are we allowed to enter your room? Do you not hate us?” So my answer is I never hate, never hate. Hatred brings only hatred.
Alice Sommer has lived her life without hatred. Nourished by the unquenchable power of music, she remains a beacon of hope and inspiration to everyone who knows her.
I was born with a very very good optimism. And this helps you…when you are optimistic, when you are not complaining, when you look at the good side of our life…everybody loves you.
“Only when we are so old, only then we are aware of the beauty of life.”
Source : arttherapyblog.com