CULTURE & SOCIETY - DATA

The power of forgiveness

Alice Herz-Sommer was born in 1903 in Prague—the Prague of the Hapsburgs and of Franz Kafka, coincidentally a family friend. Musically gifted, Alice was one of the best-known pianists in Prague in her teens. But as the Nazis swept across Europe her comfortable, bourgeois world began to crumble around her, as anti-Jewish feeling not only intensified but also was legitimized. In 1942, Alice’s mother was deported. Desperately unhappy, she resolved to learn Chopin’s 24 Etudes—the most technically demanding piano pieces she knew—that ended up saving her sanity. A year later, she, too—together with her husband and their six-year-old son—was deported to a concentration camp.

But even in Theresienstadt, music was her salvation. In the course of over 100 concerts, she gave her fellow prisoners hope in a world of pain and death. This is her remarkable story, which is also the story of a mother’s struggle to create a happy childhood for her beloved son in the midst of atrocity and barbarism. Of 15,000 children sent to the camp, Raphael was one of the 130 who survived. Alice died recently, at the age of 110 in her London apartment, still playing piano for several hours until her last day. In the wonderful video you can watch her talk about joy, music and forgiveness.