Alice Herz-Sommer, who at the age of 110 was probably the oldest survivor of the Holocaust, has died on February 23rd in London, surrounded by family and friends.
A Jewish pianist and music teacher from Prague, Alice was sent to Theresienstadt concentration camp in 1943. Her husband and mother were killed in Auschwitz but Alice, along with a handful of other highly-trained musicians, was saved because she was able to perform recitals at the show camp.
“I knew that we will play,” she said. “And I was thinking: when we can play, it can’t be so terrible. The music, the beauty. Music is in the first place of art, it brings us on an island, with peace, beauty and love.”
Of her beloved son, who died accidentally when he was in his sixties, she said: “Five years ago he was visiting Israel for a concert tour and the day after the last concert, he came back and didn’t feel well. His wife took him to hospital. It was a heart attack. They gave him anesthesia and he didn’t wake up.” At least, she said, he never knew what it was like to grow old.
“I was lucky to be born with a very extraordinary temperament. I am optimistic. I know everything is half good and half bad, me as well, I know about the best things I look at the good things. Everywhere is good and bad.” The artist, who famously said she bore no grudges and saw her life as a wonderful gift, said that there is beauty everywhere, if you know where to look.
This reminds me of the Celtic idea of “thin spots”: places or times of the year where the veil which separates the material and spiritual worlds is thinnest and most permeable. It seems to me that Herz-Sommer discovered one of the most useful skills that one can have for surviving our material world: the ability to look beyond the obvious and see the spiritual meaning in all things, even the ugly.
I am lucky enough to be living in a physical place where making this connection is easy; Herz-Sommer was extraordinary, indeed, for being able to see this relationship everywhere.
One of my favorite runes is Gebo, signified by the runeform “X”, which literally means “gift” or “generosity” but represents the intersection of heaven and earth. Alice Herz-Sommer’s example and great contribution to us all teaches us that for the truly developed great soul, “X” marks all spots.
Groove of the Day