At a time when Dame Myra Hess was helping to maintain the spirits of war-depressed Londoners another woman Jewish pianist was incarcerated in Theresienstadt (Terezín) concentration camp, where almost 35,000 prisoners perished.
But Alice Herz –Sommer, who at 106-years-old is probably the world’s oldest Holocaust survivor still fills her world with music and maintains that life is beautiful. She says:
"The world is wonderful, it's full of beauty and full of miracles. Our brain, the memory, how does it work? Not to speak of art and music ... It is a miracle."
"In any case, life is beautiful, extremely beautiful. And when you are old, you appreciate it more. When you are older you think, you remember, you care and you appreciate. You are thankful for everything. For everything."
This a shortened version of her life story which I’ve copied from her Facebook Page which first appeared in The Guardian newspaper:
“Alice Herz-Sommer was born in 1903. A renowned concert pianist and a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps. Despite the tragedy of losing most of her family in the Holocaust, she remains resolutely optimistic and full of energy. As a young girl, she knew Franz Kafka - he was the best friend of her elder sister's husband.
“With her Jewish background, she endured the miseries of the Prague Ghetto, spent two years in the Theresienstadt (Terezín) concentration camp, where nearly 35,000 prisoners perished.
"’We had to play music because the Red Cross came and the Germans were trying to show what a good life we had," says Sommer. "It was our luck, actually. Even so, hundreds and hundreds were dying around us every day. It was a hard time’
“They lived in barracks for two years; they were given black water coffee for breakfast, white water soup for lunch and, in the evening, black water soup.
"’We lost weight. People ask, 'How could you make music?' We were so weak. But music was special, like a spell, I would say. I gave more than 150 concerts there. There were excellent musicians there, really excellent. Violinists, cellists, singers, conductors and composers’.
“Her husband was moved to Auschwitz in 1944: she never saw him again. She lost many in her extended family and most of the friends she had grown up with. In 1949, she went to Israel with her sisters and taught music in Tel Aviv.
“At the prompting of her son, she moved to London 20 years ago. Until recently she went to the University of the Third Age three times a week to study history, philosophy and the history of Judaism. She has now stopped because of problems with her back.
“All her family and friends are dead.
"’I have never met anyone of this age. Never. When I was young, somebody of 60 was regarded as an old man.’
Does she ask herself why she survived?
"My temperament. This optimism and this discipline. Punctually, at 10.00 a.m., I am sitting there at the piano, with everything in order around me. For 30 years I have eaten the same, fish or chicken. Good soup, and this is all. I don't drink, not tea, not coffee, not alcohol. Hot water. I walk a lot with terrible pains, but after 20 minutes it is much better. Sitting or lying is not good.’