Alice Sommer | Jo Tempest

Alice Sommer

Just when I think I have written about the most inspiring person, I come across another one. Alice Sommer’s is one of those people and here is her amazing story.  

Alice was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia as a Jew, on the 26th November 1903 and is still alive at 108 years old.

Her father, Friedrich, was a merchant and her mother, Sofie, was a highly educated woman who had many intellectual friends.

Alice started to play the piano when she was only five years old, first taught by her older sister. Then she studied under Vaclav Stepan at the Prague German Conservatory of Music.

By the time she was just 19 years old, she was teaching piano and also touring giving concerts. 

 

Alice Sommer At The Piano | Jo Tempest

Young Alice At The Piano

In 1931, she met and married her husband, Leopold Sommer, in just two weeks. He was a businessman and an amateur musician. They had their son, Raphael, in 1937 and were very happy.

Then Germany invaded Czechoslovakia and their lives would change forever. A lot of her friends and family left for Palestine but she stayed behind to nurse her mother. But then, her mother became one of the first groups of people to be sent to the Theresienstadt Concentration Camp.

Life was extremely hard for Alice and her family. They had to wear the dreaded yellow star and when she was outside, her non-Jewish friends dare not look at her.

Alice Sommer And Star | Jo Tempest

Alice Wearing The Star

She had to queue for food just half an hour a day and many of their possessions had to be given away. She had a Nazi living in the apartment above her as well as below her, so life was dangerous.

Alice and Son Raphael | Jo Tempest

Alice and Son Raphael

Then in July 1943, Alice along with Leopold and Raphael, were also sent to the Theresienstadt Concentration Camp. The night before they were leaving, one of her Nazi neighbors, Hermann, came to apartment with his wife, bringing biscuits.

“Mrs Sommer, I hope you come back with your family. I don’t know what to say to you. I enjoyed your playing such wonderful things. I thank you.” 

Once they were all in the camp, Alice realized it was inspected by the Red Cross and so the Nazis used music as a propaganda tool. She soon became one of the musicians putting on 2-3 concerts a week playing her beloved piano as well as singing in the choir.

It was a way to keep her family alive. They were surviving on black water soup and coffee for breakfast, white water soup for lunch and black water soup for dinner.

But even through all this Alice could laugh, especially for her son. It seemed that the concerts were ‘food’ for all the prisoners and many of them later said it was what kept them going through the terrible war. She managed to perform in over 150 concerts while she was in the camp. Sadly, Leopold was sent to Auschwitz and later to Dachau where he died of typhus just six weeks before the end of the war.

 

His last words to Alice were “You mustn’t do anything voluntarily.” She did not understand at first until three days later, thousands of mothers and children were voluntarily sent away thinking they were going to be reunited with their husbands. Of course, they never were. Leopold’s last few words saved Alice and Raphael’s lives. 

Alice Plays Every Day | Jo Tempest

Alice Plays Every Day | Jo Tempest

The Soviets liberated the camp on the 9th May 1945 but not before over 35,000 inmates had died. This included 15,000 children of only 130 survived, including Alice’s son, Raphael.

They returned to Prague and then in March 1949, they emigrated to Tel Aviv in Israel to reunite with her family and friends. She taught music but then decided to move to London in 1986 with Raphael, who by that time was an excellent cellist and conductor.

Once there, she spent three days a week at the University of Third Age studying the History of Judaism, History and Philosophy. By this time she is in her eighties and had survived cancer, quite incredible. Up to the age of 97 years old, she was still going swimming every day at a nearby public pool but her back started to give her problems. 

She continues to plays the piano three hours a day, beginning with a Bach prelude, followed by Schubert, Beethoven and more. She plays Scrabble and spends her time with friends and family.

Her son Raphael died in his sixties, but she enjoys the love of her daughter-in-law, Genevieve, and her grandsons, David and Ariel. When the windows are open in her London flat, people can be seen standing on the street listening to her music. 

Alice Sommer Optimist | Jo Tempest

Alice Sommer Optimist

Alice claims that she owes her longevity to her optimism; even though she knows about too many bad things, she only looks at the good things in life.

“The world is wonderful, it’s full of beauty and full of miracles. Our brain, the memory, how does it work? Not to speak of art and music…….it’s a miracle.”

 Well, for me, Alice Sommer is the miracle of Life! God Bless Her.

 

Jo Tempest.

 

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