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BIOGRAPHY

Alice Herz was born in Prague, in what was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire on 26 November 1903 to parents Friedrich and Sofie “Gigi” Herz. She had two sisters (including a twin named Mariana), and two brothers. Her parents ran a cultural salon, which is where Herz met various famous historical figures, such as Franz Kafka and Gustav Mahler.

She began playing the piano at a young age, being taught by her older sister, Irma, and quickly became passionate about music. Seeing her aptitude and dedication for the piano, composer, pianist, and family friend Artur Schnabel encouraged her to pursue a career as a classical musician. She went on to attend the Prague German Conservatory of Music, where she studied under Václav Štěpánl; at the time, she was the youngest pupil at the academy.

She would later meet businessman and amateur musician Leopold Sommer, and married him in 1931. The couple would have a son together, named Stephan (later known as Raphael), in 1937. Over the course of the 1930s, she began making a name for herself as a pianist, performing concerts across Europe until the beginning of World War II.

After the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia in 1939, most of her family and friends emigrated to Palestine from Romania, while Herz herself stayed in Prague with her husband and son to care for ill mother, who was 72 at the time. The family was detained by the Nazis, and were sent to different concentration camps, where her mother would be murdered. Alice herself was sent to Theresienstadt in July 1943, where she played more than 100 concerts for prisoners and guards, which allowed for her son to be one of the few children in the concentration camp to survive after two years of imprisonment. Her husband would die from typhus in Dachau, six weeks before the camp was liberated.

After the Soviet liberation of Theresienstadt in 1945, Herz and her son returned to Prague, and, in March 1949, emigrated to Israel to reunite with her surviving family, including her twin sister, Mariana. She would live in Israel for the following 40 years, working as a music teacher at the Jerusalem Academy of Music before moving to England in 1986. For the rest of her life, she resided in London, living in a one-room flat in Belsize Park.

Despite the immense hardships she faced, Herz maintained a positive outlook throughout the remainder of her life, and remained passionate about music, still practicing the piano for three hours a day even as a centenarian. She later stated that her love for music is what allowed for her to survive for two years in Theresienstadt, seeking solace in the music of composers such as Beethoven and Chopin.

RECOGNITION

Her age was verified by Andrew Holmes, and validated by the European Supercentenarian Organisation on 1 April 2024.

ATTRIBUTION

* “Remembering Alice Herz-Sommer” Toccata, 23 February 2014
* “Alice Herz-Sommer obituary” The Guardian, 24 February 2014
* “Oldest-Known Holocaust Survivor Dies; Pianist Was 110” NPR, 24 February 2024

GALLERY

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