Alice Herz-Sommer may not have set out to change minds, but her essence and love for the piano transcended time, politics and the horrors of Hitler’s concentration camps.
The world’s oldest pianist and Holocaust survivor passed away over the weekend. What a life she lived. She won’t be remembered as a victim, but for her incredible sense of optimism.
“Every day in life is beautiful,” she would say. And she believed it, despite a life of profound suffering over the course of her 110 years, including the loss of her home in Prague, her parents and her husband after the German occupation of Czechoslovakia.
I had not known about Herz-Sommer’s life story until Friday night, when I saw the Oscar-nominated documentary short film based on her life, “The Lady in Number 6.” Here’s a preview of this poignant meditation on survival, aging and music as salvation.
Herz-Sommer’s talent for playing the piano probably saved her life. The Nazis placed her and her little boy in a special camp for Jewish intellectuals and artists. The Germans allowed them to act, sing, play and live for propaganda purposes. Thousands were still sent on to Auschwitz and died.
American kids read about Anne Frank‘s diary in elementary school. Steven Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List” brought a shameful chapter in history back to life in movie form. The Holocaust is covered in history books and museums worldwide.
But there is a different, gut-wrenching and visceral reaction that happens when we hear survivors tell their own stories. We’re lifted out of our comfort zone. Questions abound. How did this happen? How do we stop crimes against humanity? How do we live our best lives when the circumstances before us are so awful?
Thankfully, Alice Herz-Sommer left us with some answers. Through documentary film, her wisdom will continue to inspire.