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Sustained notes

The music Alice Herz-Sommer knew and loved sustained her through the suffering of a Nazi death camp. Herz-Sommer, the oldest Holocaust survivor, 110, died last week.

When she was 16, Herz-Sommer attended conservatory studies in Prague and as an older teenager, she was performing concerts throughout Europe.

Her widowed mother was deported to Terezin - part ghetto, part concentration camp - and then a death camp in 1942. In 1943, Herz-Sommer, her husband and their son were dispatched to Terezin.

Herz-Sommer played her music and sustained the prisoners – and saved herself as well as her son from being deported to a death camp. Her captors loved her music and told her she and her son would remain in Terezin. Her husband, however, was sent on and later died at Dachau, a month before troops liberated the camp.

After the war Alice Herz-Sommer and her son returned to Prague and later left for Israel where she taught for many years. In the mid-1980s she moved to London. She continued to play the piano hours each day until shortly before her death.

We fill our lives with whatever brings us joy and meaning. For Alice Herz-Sommer, music brought joy and meaning and literally sustained her life. 

(S-R photo: Alice Herz-Sommer)

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Writer Catherine Johnston of Olympia, Wash., addresses issues facing aging baby boomers and seniors as well as issues of serious illness, death and dying, grief and loss.

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