Skip to main content

At 110, oldest known Holocaust survivor dies

By Ashley Fantz, CNN
February 25, 2014 -- Updated 1011 GMT (1811 HKT)
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
October 2, 2014 -- Updated 1155 GMT (1955 HKT)
The comparisons are inevitable: A student-led campaign challenges Beijing authorities for greater freedom. Could Hong Kong protests lead to another Tiananmen?
October 2, 2014 -- Updated 0354 GMT (1154 HKT)
With an efficient subway, inexpensive taxis and a good public bus system, Hong Kong is normally an easy city to navigate ...
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)
Experts believe that ISIS may be using a Spanish enclave to bring jihad to Europe.
October 2, 2014 -- Updated 0752 GMT (1552 HKT)
In a country with not enough toilets, scavengers are paid just $5 a day to scoop human waste.
September 28, 2014 -- Updated 2332 GMT (0732 HKT)
CNN's Ivan Watson was in the middle of a pro-democracy protest in Hong Kong when things got out of hand.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
The world's animal population has halved in 40 years as humans put unsustainable demands on Earth, a new report warns.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1249 GMT (2049 HKT)
Every day, refugees and migrants risk their lives as they seek a new life. Now, a new report puts a figure to the number of victims.
October 2, 2014 -- Updated 1200 GMT (2000 HKT)
It's a frightening prospect for South Koreans: secret North Korean tunnels under Seoul
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1442 GMT (2242 HKT)
Mainstream commentators must promote positive role models to Muslims feeling victimized, writes Ghaffar Hussain.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 0613 GMT (1413 HKT)
Two men familiar with inside knowledge of ISIS speak with CNN's Arwa Damon.
October 2, 2014 -- Updated 0115 GMT (0915 HKT)
If you're lucky, your train might be delayed.
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
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