Some Answers Come Too Late!

When Alice was young.

When Alice was young.

When you hear about the Holocaust do the same questions well up inside of you? Did the United States know and do nothing? And what about the International Red Cross which was aware of the horrifying reality of the concentration camps in Europe and the millions of Jews that were being murdered there? These same questions swelled up within me when I recently read of the death of the oldest known holocaust survivor, Alice Herz-Sommer who died at the age of 110.

Alice and her son had been confined to a concentration camp in Terezin or Theresienstadt. It was here that she was able to continue to play the piano and she believed that it was

Alice and her son, Stephan. He was six when he and his mother were sent to a concentration camp.

Alice and her son, Stephan. He was six when he and his mother were sent to a concentration camp.

music and her son that sustained her through two years in the Nazi prison.

I’ve read that the Terezin camp was set up as a model Jewish town and that when the Red Cross  visited there they saw gardens, play areas for children and heard wonderful concerts. It was in these concerts that Alice Sommer starred. The reality was that after this charade, the people who were used to deceive the world of the horror at these camps, were murdered at Auschwitz.

Mrs. Sommer and her son remained alive and although she never learned where her mother died, and her husband died of typhus at Dachau, (another camp) in her old age she expressed little bitterness. Alice married Leopold

One of the books written about her life.

One of the books written about her life.

Sommer in 1931. Their son was born in 1937, two years before the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia. This was a very hard time for the Jews, but Alice said she didn’t mind because she was full of enthusiasm about being a mother. She is quoted as saying, “in everyone there is some good and bad.” She remembered that on the night before her departure to the concentration camp when neighbors came to take whatever the family couldn’t take with them, that it was a Nazi, who lived upstairs, that called to say he would miss her hours and hours of playing beautiful music. The lowest point in her life came when her mother and husband were taken away, and that’s when an inner voice seemed to say, “Now no one can help you, not your husband, your little child, nor the doctor.”

I don’t clearly understand why Alice was allowed to continue playing the piano in the

She would play for hours.

She would play for hours.

concentration camp, except that occasionally the Nazi would use a camp as a model and at her’s, inmates were allowed to stage concerts. This camp was where prisoners were held before being taken away for extermination. She credits music with keeping her alive and said that music was “our food.”  However, not all was good news for Terezin, An estimated 140,000 Jews were sent there and 33,430 died there. About 88,000 were moved on to Auschwitz and other death camps where most of them were killed. Mrs. Herz-Sommer and her son, Stephan, were among fewer than 20,000 who were freed when the notorious camp was liberated by the Soviet army in May 1945.

Alice started learning piano at the age of 5 and she became an accomplished concert pianist . But why would she give credit to this stage of creativity as having saved her life? With a

Piano playing has a good effect on the brain.

Piano playing has a good effect on the brain.

little research I found that music itself can reduce anxiety and stress. Playing piano a few moments can help the mind refocus, relieving stress and even lowering a person’s blood pressure. Piano playing can also affect the mental health of an individual and pianists may see a reduction in depression. In 1949, Alice left Czechoslovakia to join her twin sister, Mizzi, in Jerusalem. She taught at the Jerusalem Conservatory until 1986, when she moved to London. She was the inspiration for two books and is the subject of a documentary film, soon to be considered for an academy award. Her son, who changed his first name to Raphael after the war, made a career as a concert cellist. He died in 2001.

Have the many questions which haunt people about the Holocaust been answered? At the time, the U.S. was in its ninth year of the Great Depression and did not have the financial

This photo was taken before her death.

This photo was taken before her death.

resources to deal with huge numbers of new immigrants. Twelve million strong military were sent in 45 divisions into western Europe. Many had been “ill-informed” about the horrifying reality of the camps, including the International Red Cross. In the end, about 200,000 Americans died ending the Nazi regime, thus ending the Holocaust. Many questions remain, and answers come much too late.

I’d love to hear from you on this subject. I’m waiting for your comments. I’m in need of some piano playing because just writing about this subject makes me depressed. Imagine living it!

8 thoughts on “Some Answers Come Too Late!

  1. After I graduated from high school, I worked at Pomeroy’s Department store, while attending college. There was a woman that I worked with and she had escaped the horrors of Auschwitz. She recalled to me, running as shots were fired behind her and the people that she was fleeing with. She was one of the lucky ones and she and her family escaped to this country. Her family even changed their last name to a german one, in order to escape!! Yes, it is sad to think of Auschwitz and all that happened during that time period. People were persecuted simply because they were Jewish. HItler had set out to eradicate and entire race of people and thankfully that didn’t happen. It is so sad to think of all this, but it is in the past and hopefully people and countries have learned from what happened so many years ago. The movie “Schindler’s List” tells the happening of Auschwitz very well. We all deserve to have a good life and the opportunity to worship God as we please. I hope that nothing like this ever happens again.

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    • Some horrible stories are told about the Holocaust. Innocent people, families and children suffering such atrocities because of their race. It saddens my heart so. I see you feel the same way. How fortunate that your friend escaped. Thanks for writing, Coleen.

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  2. The story is sad, the questions, many unanswered and the pictures we see are unbelievable. However the pictures of Alice on the right of your story finds her smiling even near the end of her life. I may need to start learning piano. Maybe this is why Nita is always smiling while she is playing. She hopes to be playing the piano even on the day she goes to be with the Lord, where she will probably continue playing for the largest choir ever. Oh, and she will be smiling just like Alice.

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    • You’ve written a wonderful commentary on your wife, Nita. I thought of her many times as I wrote this post. She has worked hard, since a child to become as accomplished as she is, yet, she loves every minute of it. She,too, exclaims the health benefits of playing the piano. And it is true, her face lights up as she plays. I’m sure she understands how piano playing carried Alice through her ordeal.Thanks for writing, Ray. You may not play piano, but you, too, are special.

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  3. Wow…110…what she had to endure made her strong. Music is a lifeline. FACT…one of the only activities that activates…stimulates…and uses the entire brain…is music. Music is energy and has the power to make men better by bring out that which is good…just…and beautiful. I’m sure her piano playing had a calming effect even on her captures. She must have forgiven those who imprisoned her because she had a wonderful spirit that beamed with joy and peace and happiness. You can see it in her smile and her eyes. If you haven’t seen my post on Corrie Ten Boom…it is a must see. She too was in a camp…and she said “when we can not forgive…God can”. We too can find in Him the strength to forgive that that is unforgiveable.

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    • I’m sure many people have the same feelings about music as you do. And since it was a lifeline to her, certainly Alice did. Corrie ten Boom is another example of how to deal with dreadful experiences. Forgiving and accepting the bad side of people seem to be a way to begin. Trusting God has to be included here also. Thanks for writing Karen. Will look for your post.

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  4. She must have been a very strong woman as well as talented. Sounds a lot like you! I wonder if all creative endeavors affect people the same way or if it’s just music.

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    • Hi Janine: I’m afraid you see your mother bigger than life. Thanks,though. I wonder if music has more of an effect because it goes through the ears and other creativeness, like art and photography, goes through the eyes. I’m sure you have opinions on this and may say “but they also go through the heart!” 🙂 Thanks for writing.

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