"Music is God when you are suffering," she says, as she is now approaching her 107th birthday. Despite the nightmare of the larger reality that confronted her in 1939, the Nazis could not diminish her soul. As expressed by another "survivor," the logic of their torturers' insanity permitted musicians to live and to perform as poster people for the world to see how well they were treated in their camp, Terezienstatadt. That they performed cannot be disputed. To call how they survived "living" is another matter. But, in their own words, they say that "music transported us into another world," an internal world that allowed them to suspend belief - if only while they performed - as the tragedy of the inhumanity of those who used and abused them crushed the spirits of those less able to cope than Alice.
Yet, for Alice, her world then and now IS music. "I'm not interested in anything else," she says between an incredible smile and a giggle.
Today, in her north London flat # 6, she plays the piano daily, welcomes the company of friends, and speaks openly and touchingly about her refusal to hate. "Hatred only breeds hatred," she tells us, and the narrator of the documentary adds that "she remains a beacon of hope" as her undiminished optimism is nothing short of remarkable.
I don't know what allows a human being to have such courage and to be so forgiving after all that she witnessed and survived; but, surely, she is a role model for us all. A woman of valor! A musician who still caresses the keys of a piano with gnarled arthritic hands as though she is a young girl whose hands are dancing across a keyboard with the grace and beauty of youth.
One loves this woman on the screen in an instant. Her strong voice totally betrays her age but not her spirit, as she tells us about her love for all people, and the joy she receives from speaking to people and hearing their stories.
I know that I, for one, am left wondering how anyonone survived the Holocaust, let alone a remarkably talented woman whose civilized and successful life as a concert pianist in Prague was taken from her at age 39. Yet, Alice Herz Sommer did more than just survive. She saved the life of her son, as well, and she lived to inspire us with a contagious brand of hope and humanity.
I trust that she will receive all the birthday wishes she deserves and greedy, though I may be, I hope she is around long enough for us to get to know even more about her than what we learn from the trailer of this documentary.
Here's to spreading the courage, music, and optimism she exudes!
*Please visit my website, http://www.applemanshapiro.com/. to learn more about my book, my private practice as a psychotherapist/addictions counselor and my work as an oral historian.