Alice Dancing Under the Gallows

Alice Dancing Under the Gallows
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Herz-Sommer was born in Prague, Austria-Hungary, along with her twin sister Mariana, to Friedrich and Sofie Herz; he was a merchant and her mother was highly educated and moved in circles of well-known writers. Herz-Sommer’s older sister Irma taught her how to play piano, which she studied diligently. She also studied under Vaclav Stepan, and at the Prague German Conservatory of Music. She had begun giving concerts and making a name for herself before the Germans took over her city.

She married businessman and amateur musician Leopold Sommer in 1931 and they had a son, Raphael (“Rafi”) (1937-2001).[2] After the invasion of Czechoslovakia, most of her family and friends emigrated to Palestine via Romania, including Max Brod and brother-in-law Felix Weltsch, but Herz-Sommer stayed in Prague to care for her ill mother, who was one of the first to be sent to Theresienstadt concentration camp. In July 1943, Herz-Sommer, her husband Leopold, and their six-year-old son were sent to Theresienstadt concentration camp. Herz-Sommer played at over 100 concerts in the camp along with other musicians. Leopold was later sent to Auschwitz and though he survived the camp, died at Dachau in 1944. After the Soviet liberation of Theresienstadt in 1945, Herz-Sommer and Rafi returned to Prague and in March 1949 emigrated to Israel to be reunited with her family. She lived in Israel and worked as a music teacher in Jerusalem until emigrating to London, United Kingdom with her son, an accomplished cellist, in 1986.

Herz-Sommer was the subject of a bestselling book A Garden of Eden in Hell recalling the events of the concentration camps. In 2010, a television programme was aired on BBC4 to recognise her life story. Herz-Sommer attributes her longevity to her optimism. “A Century of Wisdom: Lessons from the Life of Alice Herz-Sommer, the World’s Oldest Living Holocaust Survivor” by Caroline Stoessinger, was published March 2012. The book has a foreword by Vaclav Havel, Czech’s first free president and a friend of both the author and Herz-Sommer.


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