110th birthday for Holocaust survivor

AIMEE GULLIVER
Last updated 13:14 27/11/2013
YouTube/AliceTheFilm

Alice Herz-Sommer, 110, is the world's oldest Holocaust survivor.

Alice Herz-Sommer
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BIRTHDAY GIRL: Alice Herz-Sommer pictured on her last birthday.

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The world's oldest Holocaust survivor turns 110 today, and she still plays the songs on the piano that helped her survive Hitler's waiting room for Auschwitz.

Born in Prague in 1903, Alice Herz-Sommer is celebrating her 110th birthday in a one-room flat in London today.

Herz-Somme was on her way to an international career in music when the Nazis invaded Prague on March 15, 1939.

As a Jew, she was forbidden from playing public concerts, but continued to practice long hours at the piano in her apartment until July 1943, when she, her husband, and Rafi, their 6-year-old son, were deported to Theresienstadt concentration camp, located in what is now the Czech Republic.

Concerts in factories had become commonplace and factory managers elevated to positions of power in the Nazi regime encouraged music in the concentration camps.

"Music was our food," Herz-Sommer has said often since the war.

"Through music we were kept alive."

Jewish prisoners were forbidden to bring sheet music or instruments into the camp and they performed in unheated buildings on a piano in extremely poor condition - performing more than 100 concerts during the 21 months Herz-Sommer was imprisoned at Theresienstadt.

She remained at the camp from 1943 until the end of the war.

Tens of thousands of people died there and more than 150,000 others were held there for months or years before being sent to their death at Auschwitz and Treblinka extermination camps in Nazi-occupied Poland.

Her husband Leopold Sommer was one - transported to Auschwitz and later to Dachau, he eventually succumbed to typhus.

After the war, Herz-Sommer fled Czechoslovakia to raise Rafi, who also survived the camp, in Israel, where she taught at the Music Academy of Jerusalem.

She settled in England in 1986 and still plays Bach and Beethoven on the piano despite arthritis in her fingers. Her failing eyesight that means she has to play from memory.

 "I think - no - I am sure [that] I am one of the happiest people in the world."

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