Learning From Tragedy & Suffering: The Remarkable Alice Herz Sommer

Posted: April 13, 2014 in Ethics, Film, Philosophy, Psychology
Tags: , , ,

The Lady in No. 6 is one of the most remarkable and moving documentaries I’ve ever seen.  Yes, that sounds like hyperbole, but consider that this 2013 film won the Academy Award for Best Short Documentary.  The film is an exploration of Alice Herz-Sommer’s life.  At 109 years old, Herz-Sommer was at the time of filming the world’s oldest pianist and the second oldest person living in London. But perhaps of most significance, she was the world’s oldest Holocaust survivor.

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At 38minutes, this film is short, but in this time the viewer has the privilege of getting to know something of a woman who possessed an indomitable spirit and a forgiving and optimistic outlook.  For me, she exemplified the teachings of another Holocaust survivor, Prof. Viktor Frankl who very famously said in his book Man’s Search for Meaning: “Everything can be taken from a person but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

To choose one’s own way was something Herz Sommer most certainly did.  Although she found herself in a concentration camp, with her son, but no other family members, she refused to give in to fear and despair.  Through her music she lived and breathed hope.  Even in the perverse nihilism of the concentration camp she was able to say “Every day in life is beautiful…every day!” And then when she emerged into a ravaged post-war Europe she resolutely refused to look back. “Hatred eats the soul of the hater, not the hated” she says without a shadow of doubt in her voice.

And there are many more memorable moments in this film. I was moved to tears when she described the death of her son Raphael, an accomplished cellist and conductor, who passed away in 2001, aged 64.  Herz Sommer expresses her gratitude that her son was spared suffering, that he had no inkling that his condition was terminal and his passing was so quick. Remarkable yes, but entirely in keeping with Alice’s attitude to life.

Alice Herz Sommer, who died only a few weeks ago at the age of 110, was a beautiful person who leaves behind a legacy that is priceless.  We can all learn something from Alice’s philosophy and outlook on life. So yes, please do watch this film; you won’t be disappointed.

You can find out more about ‘The Lady in No.6’, and watch the film, by visiting http://nickreedent.com/.

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