That which they wish to destroy........
Below is a clip released last month. It is a preview of a longer documentary (called “Dancing under the gallows”) which will appear next year. I suggest you watch the video first, and then read my commentary, which gives additional information.
Deep gratitude to Tom Gross for the video and the post:
A TRUE SURVIVOR
Tom Gross adds:
Alice Herz-Sommer lives alone in a small single-room apartment in north London, and considers herself one of the luckiest people alive.
Besides being the world’s oldest known Holocaust survivor, Alice is also the second oldest person in London. She was a leading pianist in Prague before the war, and even now (she turns 107 this month), continues to play the piano for three hours or more every day, performing Schubert, Smetana and Beethoven in a style long forgotten, the style of Artur Schnabel, who was one of her teachers.
She was born in 1903 in Prague, then still part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Growing up in the Jewish cultural circles of Prague, as a young girl she knew Franz Kafka, who was a very close friend of her elder sister’s husband. She started playing the piano when she was five, taking lessons with a distinguished pupil of Liszt, Conrad Ansorge. At 16, she became the youngest member of the master class at Prague’s prestigious German musical academy.
Alice Herz-Sommer, in Prague before the war
“MUSIC WAS MY FOOD”
In March 1939, Hitler occupied Czechoslovakia and Jews were forced out of their jobs and banned from public transport, parks, theatres, concert halls and swimming pools, and forbidden to have jewelry, cash or own telephones. “Although we were poor, had nothing to eat and the Nazis and their Czech collaborators took away all our belongings,” Alice says, “for me the greatest punishment was having to wear the yellow star. When I went on the street my best non-Jewish friends didn’t dare to look at me.”
After two years in the Prague ghetto, she was deported with her husband and son to the Theresienstadt concentration camp (known as Terezín in Czech), north of Prague, where tens of thousands of Jews were killed. She became part of the camp orchestra and even managed to play Chopin’s 24 Etudes from memory.
“We were hardly given any food in Theresienstadt. We lost weight. We scavenged for potato peelings as people starved to death around us. People ask, ‘How could you make music?’ We were so weak. But music was special, like a spell. Music was my food. There were excellent musicians there in the camp orchestra, really excellent. Violinists, cellists, singers, conductors and composers.”
ONE OF ONLY 130 CHILDREN TO SURVIVE
Her husband (a well-known violinist who she married in 1931) was moved from Theresienstadt to Auschwitz in 1944, and then to Dachau, where he was killed along with most other members of her family. In 1942, her adored elderly mother (who, as a child, was a friend of Gustav Mahler) was deported from Theresienstadt to the Treblinka extermination camp.
Above: A memorial at Treblinka.
Each stone represents a Jewish town or city,
the population of which was exterminated at the camp
Alice’s 6 year-old-son Raphael, who was a talented singer, took part in performances of Hans Krasa’s children’s opera Brundibar, given as part of the Nazis’ attempts to show how “normal” life was in Theresienstadt for the visiting Red Cross. Out of 15,000 children who were sent to the camp, he was one of only 130 to survive.
Alice and her son (now aged 8) were liberated by the Red Army on May 9, 1945, the last day of the war. “When I came back home it was very, very painful because nobody else came back. The whole family of my husband, several members of my family, all my friends, all the friends of my family, nobody came back. Then I realized what Hitler had done.”
She then moved to Israel (joining one of her sisters who had managed to escape there before the war) and taught music in Tel Aviv. “I must say, when I moved to Israel there was not a day without political tension, but to experience democracy! After Hitler and Stalin, you feel what it means. You can read, speak, trust everyone. It was a beautiful life in Israel, inspiring. Musicians, scientists and writers – they all came and lectured. It was a cultural centre. I was very happy.”
In 1986, at the prompting of her son who had moved to England, she moved to London.
“LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL”
One of the other women featured in the video clip above is Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, who was born in 1925 in Breslau (which was then in Germany but is now part of Poland and has been renamed Wroclaw). Anita is a cellist of world renown, and one of the only surviving members of the 40-piece Women’s Orchestra at Auschwitz. The orchestra was conducted by Alma Rosé, the daughter of Gustav Mahler’s sister Justine, before she died in Auschwitz in 1944.
There's more. Read the rest.