Oldest living pianist and holocaust survivor enjoys a quiet birthday at home
Alice Herz-Sommer, the second oldest person living in London and the world’s oldest survivor of the Holocaust turned 110 on Tuesday. She celebrated at home, in her one-bedroom ground-floor flat in London's Belsize Park.
Still going strong, Alice is by all accounts the world's oldest living pianist and has a unique life philosophy: "I think, no I am sure," she says, "I am one of the happiest people in the world." During the Second World War she saw her mother and her husband put on the transports to Auschwitz while she, along with her six-year-old son, Raphael, was imprisoned in the Theresienstadt concentration camp. Before the war she was a renowned recitalist but now Alice lives alone in her tiny flat in central London where she still spends hours each day at her piano, practicing her beloved Bach and Beethoven.
Incredibly Alice has found a way through her music to look beyond the horrors of those days and to cherish instead what is joyful, pure and noble about her fellow man. “I have lived through many wars and have lost everything many times – including my husband, my mother and my beloved son,” she says, “yet, life is beautiful, and I have so much to learn and enjoy. I have no space nor time for pessimism and hate.”
Alice played more than 100 concerts inside the concentration camp and is adamant that music preserved her sanity and her life. When she plays Schubert and Beethoven today, it’s in a style that the world has long since forgotten – the style of her teacher, the legendary Artur Schnabel.
Around the age of 100 Alice took up the study of philosophy to bolster her indestructible spirit, to try and make sense of everything that had befallen her, and to keep her insatiably curious mind alive. With her remarkable memory she’s able to keep her busy schedule in her head without a diary or the assistance of a secretary. She makes her own appointments, does her own cooking and shopping, takes two long daily walks and frequently talks with journalists, students and other musicians.
Aware that her time is limited, Alice is pragmatic saying, “I am no longer myself. The body cannot resist as it did in the past. I think I am in my last days but it doesn’t really matter because 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.”