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Life Beyond Pain with Alice

Alice Herz-Sommer is a beacon of hope and inspiration to everyone who knows her. She turned 107 years old in November and is the oldest Holocaust survivor in the world. She lives entirely alone in Apartment 6 in a small apartment building in North London, England.

Alice plays Bach, Beethoven, and Schubert pieces for about three hours every day on her piano. She talks frequently with journalists, students, musicians, and just about anyone else who understands and loves music. Her love of music inspires her to live her life full of optimism and faith in the human spirit, even though she lived through one of the most horrifying ordeals any human can imagine. She says:

“Music saved my life and music saves me still. Music is made for healing the soul. Music is a religion. Music is God.”

In 1942 (when she was 39 years old), Alice was a well-known Jewish concert pianist living in Prague, Czechoslovakia. She was deported with her six-year-old son to a concentration camp. The Nazis sent Alice to Theriesinstadt — a concentration camp used for propaganda purposes. It was the only death camp where children were allowed to stay with a parent. Theriesinstadt prisoners were a collection of artists, musicians, and actors that the Nazis filmed performing concerts and plays and then they distributed the films around the world to make it look like the Nazis were treating the prisoners humanely.

Theriesinstadt prisoners were fed and treated better than the prisoners at the other death camps. But they still lived each day wondering if it was going to be their last; as long as the Germans wanted music, they couldn’t put Alice and her fellow musicians in the gas chamber. Alice played more than 100 concerts while imprisoned, all from memory.

To this day — 65 years later — she vividly remembers her helplessness and inability to feed her son or to answer his many questions about why people had to live in concentration camps. In spite of this, Alice insists that she has never, ever hated the Nazis, and she never will.

Many German journalists come to Alice’s apartment wanting to interview her. They stand outside her door and ask, “Are we allowed to come in? Don’t you hate us?” Alice says to them, “Hate?! I never hate. Hatred only brings hatred!”

“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.”

If you wish to learn more about Alice and her indomitable spirit, a best-selling book was just published in December called, A Garden of Eden in Hell: The Life of Alice Herz-Sommer, by Melissa Muller and Reinhard Piechoki.

Alice is a living reminder to not sleep walk through life, to not dwell on our sorrows, but to remember the beauty in life, even when life’s circumstances are not pretty. If anyone has a reason to be bitter, it would be Alice — but she is the complete opposite! Thank you, Alice, for sharing your story. I’m so glad you chose not to hate because beauty such as yours comes only from a heart of love. Your words and music have touched me deeply.


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