'I never hated. Hatred brings only hatred'

109-year-old survivor may be headed to the Oscars

With her 110th birthday on November 26, Alice Herz-Sommer awaits news if her documentary, now shortlisted with eight films, will make it to the final nominations for an Academy Award

Alice Herz-Sommer (photo credit: courtesy)
Alice Herz-Sommer (photo credit: courtesy)

LONDON — A film about the life of the world’s oldest Holocaust survivor has reached the shortlist of eight films competing for an Oscar in the documentary short subject category, at the 86th Academy Awards next March. The final nominations will be announced in January.

The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life,” directed by Oscar winner Malcolm Clarke, recently received its UK premiere as part of the UK Jewish Film Festival. It tells the story of 109-year-old Alice Herz-Sommer, a Prague-born concert pianist who was in Theresienstadt. Number 6 refers to the north London apartment where she lives.

In the film — which took approximately two and a half years to make — she shares her views on how to live a long and happy life, about the centrality of music, all the time speaking with candor and optimism despite the traumas she has encountered.

According to Chris Branch, one of the producers, interest in the film has picked up considerably since its shortlist announcement.

In 1943 Alice was sent to Terezin with both her husband, Leopold Sommer and their six-year-old son, Raphael. She performed in more than 100 concerts in the camp and although she and Raffi survived, she lost both her mother and husband in Auschwitz.

Remarkably she insists that she never hated the Nazis and never will.

“I never hated. Hatred brings only hatred.”

After the war, Alice and Raffi left Europe for Israel where they lived and worked until emigrating to London in 1986. Her son, an accomplished cellist and conductor, died suddenly in 2001.

‘Music saved my life and music saves me still’

The film features photographs and rare old footage, and there are many scenes of Alice playing the piano. It captures her moral strength, modesty and humor and she is unequivocal in stating that music preserved her sanity and brought her hope.

“Music saved my life and music saves me still.”

Branch believes “The Lady in Number 6” should not be thought of as a Holocaust documentary as it is about her love of music and how it enabled her to survive. The film “is a testament to the power of positive thought,” he says.

He describes making the film as a labor of love, primarily as it has been funded entirely by the producers without outside support and with little prospect of financial return. Branch and his fellow producer and long time friend, Nick Reed, have said that in the event of any profit being made, these would go to the Rafael Sommer Music Foundation.

Alice will be 110 on 26 November and the filmmakers are trying to get 110,000 birthday wishes for her via Facebook. Although she still lives at Number 6, Alice can now hardly see or hear.

At the end of the film we are left with her sobering comment that, “Only when we are so old — only — are we aware of the beauty of life.”

Birthday wishes for Alice Herz-Sommer can be posted on Facebook.

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