Skip to main content

At 110, oldest known Holocaust survivor dies

By Ashley Fantz, CNN
updated 5:11 AM EST, Tue February 25, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Alice Herz-Sommer and her son were sent to a concentration camp during WWII
  • A talented pianist, she survived by playing for the Nazis at the camp
  • "My world is music," she said in a 2014 Oscar-nominated documentary about her life

(CNN) -- The world's oldest known Holocaust survivor has died at age 110, her grandson told CNN Sunday.

Alice Herz-Sommer, a talented musician and pianist, lived alone in her London flat, according to a 2014 Oscar nominated documentary about her extraordinary life.

"My world is music. I'm not interested in doing anything else," she said in "The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life."

Originally from Prague in what was then Czechoslovakia, Herz-Sommer was imprisoned at the Theresienstadt concentration camp during World War II. It was music that saved her. She and others performed concerts that entertained the Nazis.

"I knew that we will play," Herz-Sommer told the filmmakers. "And I was thinking when we can play it can't be so terrible. The music, the music! The music is the first place of art. It brings us on an island with peace, beauty and love."

'The Lady in Number 6'

Theresienstadt was a ghetto-labor camp to which the SS deported and then incarcerated certain categories of German, Austrian, and Czech Jews, based on their age, disability as a result of past military service, or domestic celebrity in the arts and other cultural life, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Herz-Sommer "grew up in a cultured and loving family which was part of the German-speaking Czech-Jewish assimilated society," the documentary's website says.

Her mother was a playmate of composer Gustav Mahler and as a child Herz-Sommer often played with German-language novelist Franz Kafka who came to her home for Sunday lunch.

I knew that we will play, and I was thinking when we can play it can't be so terrible.
Alice Herz-Sommer

Herz-Sommer was living in Prague when she received her deportation summons from the Nazis, the documentary site explains. Her mother and husband had already been transported to Auschwitz where they were gassed, the site says. Both Herz-Sommer and her 5-year-old son, it says, were sent to the Theresienstadt camp.

"As an adult Raffi had remarkably few dark memories of the camp," according to the filmmakers.

The son said that his mother somehow "managed to protect him from the worst realities of life at the mercy of the Nazis."

Herz-Sommer and her son returned to Prague after being liberated by the Soviet Army in May of 1945, according to the film.

A clip on the site shows Herz-Sommer laughing, something she did a lot of in her later years.

Her family surrounded her at her bedside before she died Sunday, her grandson Ariel Sommer told CNN.

"Much has been written about her, but to those of us who knew her best, she was our dear 'Gigi.'

"She loved us, laughed with us, and cherished music with us," he wrote. "She was an inspiration and our world will be significantly poorer without her by our side. We mourn her loss and ask for privacy in this very difficult moment."

READ: Pages torn from scores of copies of Anne Frank's diary in Tokyo libraries

READ: Auschwitz survivor's social media search for long-lost twin

CNN's AnneClaire Stapleton contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 6:19 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
China and likely other countries have the capacity to shut down the U.S. power grid, says the NSA.
updated 8:21 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
If it wasn't for a comic's skit, Bill Cosby would still be America's favorite father, says expert.
updated 10:50 AM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Obama orders the most sweeping overhaul of U.S. immigration in decades, prioritizing the deportation of "felons, not families."
updated 4:06 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Fighters loyal to ISIS are now in control of Derna, a city on Libya's Mediterranean coast.
updated 2:45 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
The founder of a U.S. nonprofit that works with returning soldiers is named CNN's Hero of the Year.
updated 8:24 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
It's a very big challenge but NASA chief scientist Ellen Stofan thinks it can be done.
updated 7:39 PM EST, Sun November 16, 2014
CNN's Atika Shubert explains how the most recent ISIS video differs from the other previous hostage execution videos.
updated 12:38 PM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
A Syrian cleric condemns ISIS and its execution of U.S. hostage Peter Kassig.
updated 12:20 PM EST, Sun November 16, 2014
Volunteer fighters in eastern Ukraine dig down just 800 meters from the front line.
updated 12:29 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
TV anchor wears the same suit for a year. Female colleague wears new outfit daily. Who gets criticized?
updated 7:04 AM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT