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 16, 2014 -- Updated 1225 GMT (2025 HKT)
Action needs to be taken immediately before affected states potentially collapse, says campaigner Bob Geldof.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
Thomas Malthus famously predicted that rising populations would create a food crunch: Could this be true?
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1033 GMT (1833 HKT)
From "Sick Man of Europe" to the world's fourth largest economy.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1706 GMT (0106 HKT)
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2318 GMT (0718 HKT)
Australian PM Tony Abbott vows to "shirt-front" Russia's Putin over the MH17 disaster.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2327 GMT (0727 HKT)
Serbia and Albania try to play but the major game is called off after a drone flying a political flag enters the stadium.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1136 GMT (1936 HKT)
George Clooney's new wife, is now Amal Clooney, raising the issue of married names.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1757 GMT (0157 HKT)
The mysterious unmanned X-37B space plane returns to Earth after more than two years in space. But the U.S. Air force isn't saying much.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1655 GMT (0055 HKT)
Public health experts are asking whether the CDC is getting the wrong message out.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1541 GMT (2341 HKT)
It's no longer necessary to launch your startup in Silicon Valley -- thanks to the internet, you can do it anywhere.
October 8, 2014 -- Updated 0900 GMT (1700 HKT)
From a "democracy wall" to a towering "Umbrella man" statue, see the best art from the massive protests in Hong Kong.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT