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Oldest Known Holocaust Survivor Dies at Age 110

on Sat, 03/01/2014 - 15:38

Ok, on the one hand I don't want this website to be known as the WWII obituary page. On the other hand, a number of very notable participants in or survivors of the Second World War have passed away of late. And when it comes to someone like Alice Herz-Sommer...well let's just say that it behooves us to take note of her passing.

Alice Herz-Sommer was a remarkable person, and her advanced age of passing is only one of many things for which she should be remembered. That said, at the age of 110 upon her death nearly one week ago on February 23rd, Alice Herz-Sommer was the oldest known survivor of the Holocaust. Nevertheless, compared to her achievements her long life should really be just a footnote. Why you might ask....well let's start with this.

First off Alice Herz-Sommer survived nearly two years in the Theresienstadt concentration camp; located in the present day Czech town of Terezin. Alice Herz-Sommer was born in Prague on November 26, 1903 and like most of Bohemia's Jews ended up in Terezin following the Nazi occupation. As for Theresienstadt, I visited Terezin late in September of 2013 and as noted in my ensuing write up about the camp:

"Though it was not an extermination camp those interned at Terezin suffered horribly. In total over 150,000 people were sent to Terezin during the Second World War. Roughly 32,000-35,000 (depending upon the source) died in the camp - of disease, exposure, starvation (with 2,600 killed in the small fortress - including many executed by the Gestapo)."

What's more, of those that did not die in Terezin itself nearly 90,000 people were deported on to Auschwitz, and to their ultimate deaths; with these unfortunate victims including Alice Herz-Sommer's husband (though he was moved to Dachau where he eventually died). So just surviving two years at Terezin/Theresienstadt was a major accomplishment. And survive she did, being one of those liberated by the Red Army in May of 1945.

If that were enough her story would be amazing. But the thing is she didn't just survive. You see Alice Herz-Sommer was also a world class pianist. At Terezin she played approximately 100 concerts for her fellow prisoners and for the guards. An Oscar nominated documentary entitled The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life tells this story, and I highly recommend you take the time to view it. Furthermore, this incredible woman was able to look after her son, also interned at Terezin, and he would be one of the few children to survive his time in the camp.

All too often names such as Patton, Eisenhower, Churchill, Montgomery, Rommel, Hitler, Zhukov, Stalin, and so on dominate our understanding of World War II's great personalities. It is my fervent hope that names such as Alice Herz-Sommer are not so completely overshadowed by the War's military and political leaders as to be forgotten.

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