I just finished Alice’s Piano, a biography of the concert pianist, Alice Herz-Sommer, who is now the oldest living Holocaust survivor. Her remarkable story is one of determination, triumph and optimism. This is one of two recently acquired titles about Ms. Herz-Sommer.
Alice was one of twins, and part of a musical family. All the sisters in her family learned to play the piano, and her brother was a violinist. After evening meals, the family often made music together, and word of these musicales spread throughout her town. She received fine musical training at the German Musical Academy in Prague, headed by Alexander von Zemlinsky (a prize pupil of Johannes Brahms, and later the friend and brother-in-law of Arnold Schoenberg). Alice made her debut playing the Chopin E-minor concerto with the Czech Philharmonic, and gave many concerts, including radio broadcasts; she was also highly regarded as a teacher.
After the Germans occupied Czechoslovakia, she was sent to Theresienstadt, along with her husband, Leopold, and their very young son, Stephan. Her talents were already well known upon her arrival, both to guards and prisoners alike. She was expected to continue to practice and give concerts in the camp; while she did, she strove to give her young son as normal a life as possible. She made a project of mastering all the Chopin etudes, gradually performing them in groups, and then as a whole concert made up of both books. She gave weekly concerts from her copious repertoire, and brought temporary solace and even joy to all those who heard her.
After the war, Alice taught at the Jerusalem Conservatory. Stephan took the Hebrew name, Raphael, and took up the cello, becoming a fine artist and teacher himself, and living and working in Great Britain. Alice followed him there years later.
Though it might seem like it, I really haven’t told you everything about Alice and her family. She’s a wise and optimistic person, who cares as much for people as she does for music. She’s still with us, beloved by friends in at least eight countries. I hope you can make time in the near future for her inspiring life story.