At 109 years old, Alice Herz Sommer is not only the oldest Holocaust survivor, but also the oldest pianist in the world.
Alice Herz Sommer has been playing piano for over a century. Even today, outside her home in North London, people congregate on the street to listen to hear play piano. A new movie, The Lady in Number 6, chronicles Sommer’s life in music, and the struggles she experienced during her internment in the Theresienstadt concentration camp.
Born in former Austria-Hungary in 1903, Alice Herz Sommer grew up not just around music and musicians, but also around some of the most influential minds of the 20th century. Family friends included composer Gustav Mahler and author Franz Kafka. Artur Schnabel, one of the 20th century’s most influential pianists, taught Sommer how to play.
During her detention at the Theresienstadt concentration camp, Sommer played over 100 concerts for fellow detainees, camp guards, and other Nazi officials working at the camp. Playing some of the most complex musical scores completely from memory, like the entirety of Chopin’s Études.
Even though Sommer lived through one of the worst events in human history, her love life and optimism was never diminished. “I have never hated, I will never hate,” Sommer explains, “hatred brings only hatred.”