The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life (2013) - full transcript

The Lady In Number 6 is one of the most inspirational and uplifting stories of the year. 109 year old, Aliza Sommer-Herz, the world's oldest pianist and Holocaust survivor shares her story on how to achieve a long and happy life. She discussed the importance of music, laughter and how to have an optimistic outlook on life.

One of the big benefits
of living in this block

is having classical music

beautifully played morning and afternoon.

In fact, I know people
who have been used to

standing outside the building
in the street listening to her

and just admiring her playing,

and she still plays, every day.

To the residents of
this small apartment building

in North London,

Alice Sommer is the Lady in Number 6.

My world is music.

I am not interested in anything else.

Alice lives alone.

She still has her health, and at 109,

she feels
she's the luckiest person alive.

Alice receives visitors
every afternoon...

I always thought this was
a silly person, a dope.

...friends who come to hear
her stories

and maybe learn from her experience.

I love people.
I love everyone.

I love people.

I love to speak with them.

I'm interested in the life
of other people.

Mostly I start to play,
it's 10:00.

And when the people in the house
listen to my playing,

"I know it's 10:00.
She plays."

This is Bach.

I am full of joy.

In my house, for instance,

when I go with this,

I go as an invalid.

I am the only one who is laughing.

Nobody laughs here in this house.

Alice was born in Prague in 1903.

She grew up amongst many of the foremost

creative minds of the day.

Mahler and Kafka were family friends.

When I was 10 years old,

my mother took me to a concert,

the first performance of
the second symphony of Mahler.

It was in Vienna.

And Mahler was sitting there,

and my mother went to him,
and they spoke together.

So I spoke, actually,
a little bit with Gustav Mahler.

As a young girl,
she'd be asked to play the piano

for famous artists who'd stop by
to visit her parents.

Franz Kafka...
He was a friend of my mother,

I can say.

She speaks...
She spoke with him for hours,

asking him what he's writing,
what he's loving, or...

He was our friend.

And sometimes he took myself
and my twin sister,

and we went for walks.

He told us stories which I'd forgot,

but I remember the atmosphere.

Made a deep impression.

My opinion is what we learn in school...

It is important, but much more important

is the atmosphere,
intellectual atmosphere,

of your parents in your home.

This goes with you till you end.

Beethoven... he is a miracle.

His music is not only melody.

What is inside...

what is inside, how it's felt...

It's full, it is intensive.


Inspired by her musical heroes,

Alice decided on a concert career.

She sought out the legendary
pianist Artur Schnabel.

Had she made the right choice?

I wanted to know his opinion
about my level.

And I played to him, and he said,

"You can't learn with me.

You can't learn anything else."

Alice's life became a whirlwind

of rehearsals and concerts.

Then one day, a particular
violinist caught her eye.


We called him "Bootsie."

He was an extraordinary violinist,

and he knew languages perfect,

and everything he knew.

I was in love with his knowledge.

We married in '37.

And I told to my husband,

"Now we are married"... in the
evening when we came home...

"Now we are married."

In the moment when you will find
another woman

who is... who you like more, you can...

We stay friends.

It's okay.

There are thousands and thousands

of beautiful women in the world.

I will be very sad, of course,
but you can do it."

It was 1937,

and these were
the best of times for Alice.

She married the man she loved,

she was becoming a musical celebrity,

and with the birth of her son,
she had it all.

My son, Raphael...
He was maybe 3 years old,

not yet, sitting the whole day.

He loved in this time was gramophone,

and suddenly it comes
to an enormous fortissimo.

And the boy... he was 3 years old...

Started to cry.

And I asked, "Why do you cry?"

"The music is so beautiful."

Ah, it's... ah.

With music, I was always happy.

I am happy even without music.

Even thinking of music make me happy.

One of the greatest philosophers said,

"Music is in the first place
of art."

It brings us on an island

with peace, beauty and love.

Music is... is a dream.

Music is a dream!

Alice had been living her dream

until it came time
for everyone's dreams to end.

Here is my best friend,

born, as well, in Prague

and brought up in Prague and so on.

Let her speak about it.

The day was 15th of March, 1939.

It was a Wednesday.

My father was calling us...
We were three children...

About 6:00 in the morning
in excited voice,

which was rare for him.

"Come children. Come, come
quickly to the window."

It was like an earthquake.

Thousands of German motorcycles,

these iron helmets,

rumbled through for hours.

But soon after we realized
Czechoslovakia was taken over,

and Nuremberg Laws started to be
implemented against the Jews.

My father had to sign off
his whole business

that he's giving it away
out of free will.

The radios have been confiscated.

Domestic animals have been
confiscated... my dog.

How do you explain it to the dog

there is a German invasion,
and he has to go with them

and can't stay at home?

You know, these are
the little details in life

that are so difficult.

Every day the Jews of
Prague endured new humiliations.

Even Alice's daily walk
in the park with Rafi

was forbidden.

For mothers, was very difficult,
but I played.

Even on pain of death.

To the Nazis, music was a luxury
for non-Jews only.

So Alice's beloved concert grand
had been taken away.

But in an act of quiet resistance,

she hid her tiny piccolo piano.

To Alice, being able to play
meant everything,

even at the risk of betrayal.

In my house, we are
living four Nazi families.

I believe my boy was playing
with their boy in the street.

They were good friends.

In any case, I played a lot at this time,

and once, the woman
who take care of our house

came and said to me,
"Mrs. Sommer,

Mr. Hellman"... the name
of this German man...

Ask me suddenly you didn't play... why?

He asked me whether you are
already deportated.

He told me he loved
your playing."

And this time I didn't play,

but when she said he loved it,
I was already sitting.

But before our deportation, he came.

"Frau Sommer, they will send you away.

It's difficult to find
the right words for me.

I was sitting for hours and hours

and listening and enjoyed your playing.

I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

You helped us to get over the hard time

we went through as a German."

While the whole world
went mad around her,

Alice could still see the
humanity in individual Germans,

though she and her people
had become officially

less than human.

One by one, everyone in her life,

every Jew in Prague,
was being taken away.

My father... when
the Gestapo came to arrest him,

he was standing at the door

with his coat, with his hat in his hand,

looked us over... it was dinnertime...

And said only these words.

"Just stay calm.
Remember, calmness is strength."

And they pushed him out,
and that was the end.

And this sentence sort of stayed with me,

and it works.

It is true.
Calmness is strength.

My mother was sent away.

And I was till her last moment with her.

Very hard for me, for her.

We didn't know about
where they were sent away.

We didn't know what...
What will happen with them.

It was a hard time.

Despite the freedom Alice gave Leopold

on their wedding night,
he never did leave her,

until the day the Nazis stole him away.

Finally, they came for Alice.

She was 39 when she and her
little boy, Rafi,

arrived in the strangest place

in the entire concentration camp system,

a feed account for Auschwitz

where Jewish celebrities
and intellectuals

were used by the Nazis
for propaganda purposes.

These images were filmed
to show the world

how well the Jews of Europe
were being treated.

Starving prisoners were allowed
to compose and give concerts.

I knew that we will play.

And I was thinking,

when we can play,
it can't be so terrible.

The music, the music!

Ah, here they are.

So how is it going?

My Sunday friend.

She comes every Sunday.

Zdenka and Anita stop by regularly

to visit their friend.

A pianist, and actress, and a cellist,

they all survived the camps.

But every day in life is beautiful.

Every day...

...that... that we are here,
we can speak about everything.

No? It's beautiful.

In Theresienstadt,
Alice played over 100 concerts,

performing all of
Chopin's études from memory.

That was my first time, actually,

I have heard all Chopin's études,

and I remember Alice
sitting on the stage.

I was in about third row

and saw her from the right profile,

and I was quite captivated.

It was magic to hear this music
in that kind of surrounding,

which you don't realize until it's over.

So you come sort of back
to Earth and see where you are

and how much it was a moral support.

It was not entertainment,
as most people think,

that we were having fun.

It had a much bigger value.

I felt that this is the only thing

which helps me to...

to have hope.

It is sort of religion, actually.

Music is...

is God.

In difficult times you feel it,

especially when you are suffering.

Alice's faith in music was an inspiration

to her son, Rafi.

He sang in Theresienstadt's
children's opera, "Brundibár."

And sustained by his mother's
natural optimism,

he, too, survived.

We are sleeping on a mattress.

He felt my body.

When a child is near to the mother,

everything can happen.

He's not afraid.

It gives him a security.

And I was always laughing.

Even there, I was laughing.

So the people who were
sitting in the audience,

and we on stage...

We were transported
into a different time,

the time before when we lived
in a normal civilized life,

civilized world,

and hoping and being convinced

that the war will soon finish,

and we'll go back home and it will go on.

But, of course, what we knew later,

the Germans knew full well

that we are sentenced to death
and thought,

"Let them play.
Let them laugh.

The laughter will soon vanish
from their face."

And we were dancing under the gallows.

They were beautiful moments there.

I knew that even in
this very difficult situation,

there are beautiful moments.

It doesn't exist anything
in our world, only bad.

Even the bad is beautiful, I would say.

Even the bad is beautiful

when you know where to look for.

It has to be.

When you are knowing that
you will play in the evening,

the concert,

and people old, terribly ill people,

came to this concert
and became... young.

It is a mystery

that when the first tone of music starts,

it goes straight away in our soul.

I loved to play the Number 1
and 2 études by Chopin.

The Number 1 is in C major.

Yeah, the C major is not so quick.

But Number 2 is quick.

The hand is closed, chromatic,

chromatic, very quick.

But it wasn't just the prisoners

who drew strength from Alice's music.

Even the camp guards listened,

stealing a few precious moments,

perhaps remembering the way
life used to be.

Some of them were
standing next to the window

and... and enjoying the music.

Afterwards, one of them told me,

"We always are standing here
and listening to your music."

Sometimes it happens

that I am thankful to have been there

because this gave me, ah...

I am richer than other people.

My reaction on life is...
It's quite another one.

All the complain,
"This is terrible!"

It's not so terrible.

My father always used to say
the very wise words...

"Put as much as you can into your heads

because that's something nobody
can take away from you."

And I think that is so very, very true.

And I think this is where music comes in,

the importance of music,
because you can actually

have music in your head without
anybody knowing it is happening.

You can actually go into another world

which is a lot nicer than the
world we're actually living in.

I can say without hesitation
that the cello saved my life

because I knew what was
going on in Auschwitz.

So I arrived in Auschwitz

really preparing to go
in the gas chamber.

I mean, that was Auschwitz,
was gas chambers.

Instead of that, when I arrived there,

some sort of ceremony,

you know, people take
your clothes off you

and shave your head
and tattoo a number on your arm.

And this is all done by prisoners,

and one of these said, "What's going on?

How long is the war going?
Will it soon be over?"

You know sort of,

"What's your name,
and where do you come from,

and what did you do before
you were arrested?"

And like an idiot, I said,
"I used to play the cello."

I mean, you know,
really ridiculous thing to say.

And she said, "Oh, fantastic.
You'll be saved."

So I became a member of this orchestra,

which was completely life-saving

because as long as they wanted music,

they couldn't put us in the gas chamber.

I mean, you know,
there's certain amount of logic

in the Germans.

The famous Dr. Mengele,
you know, who was interested

in experiments on twins...
Much feared man

because, you know, he just...

We were just like... like guinea pigs.

You know, it's wonderful.

You can actually experiment on humans,

so you don't have to have guinea pigs.

And he came into the block.
That was another thing.

You see, during the day anybody
could walk into the music block

and ask for something.

We didn't just play marches.
We played all sorts of

what were pop songs in those days

and arias from operettas.

And and he wanted to hear
the "Traumerei" by Schumann,

and that was on my repertoire.

So I played the "Traumerei"
by Schumann to Dr. Mengele.

Completely ludicrous situation.

God knows what he's just been
doing before he came in

and wanted to hear the "Traumerei"

to, um, destroy himself a bit.

You know, the more you think about it

and the more you talk about it,
the more...

macabre the whole thing is.

I think most people,

when they hear the word "Holocaust,"

see only two things... gas chambers

and the number of 6 million
and nothing in between,

but it was everythingin between.

Survival was, in a nutshell,

a matter of your attitude
to the situation,

and the situation changed
every five minutes.

And even when it was at the end,


I was lying dying amongst 300 corpses.

Nobody took them out.

And the rest looked like corpses,

were still breathing.

It never occurred to me
that I could be one of them.


I never felt like a victim.

I felt more like an observer.

I felt it has nothing to do with me.

I just happen to be here,

and I have to take it as it comes.

Survival is a very complex matter.

You don't learn it.

It comes to you spontaneously.

When you were really down in the hell

and come up again,

you have learned what matters
in life and what doesn't,

and what matters is very few things.

Life matters, human relationships,

and that's about it.

The rest is not important.

One can live without,

and because of this,
it has enriched my life,

and I'm grateful...

for that experience.

I can say that.

Well, I don't think
I'm alone in the world.

As you know, I've got loads
of grandchildren.

You know, any trouble you go to Grandma.

But basically everybody is
alone in the world.

Of course.

In the end, we are all alone.

We are born alone.
We die alone. Yeah, I mean...

And I feel if during the lifetime

we find somebody who can walk with us

part of the way,
then we are already lucky.

Very lucky.

Until it comes to a crossroad
and he's gone.

So one should be grateful for the time

that that person was with you

walking with you part of the life

and say, "Thank you."

My son... I can't tell you

how beautiful my life
through this child was.

After the war, Alice and Rafi
left Europe for Israel,

where he followed his mother's example,

making his career in music.

For almost 50 years,

celebrated cellist Raphael Sommer

performed all around the world.

He had a concert in Israel on Tuesday.

In the evening, he didn't feel well,

so they took him into the hospital.

They gave him an anesthetic...
You know what it is?

And he didn't, uh...

He didn't, uh...

He died.

So he was 64 years old.

He didn't suffer.

He didn't know that he will die,
and he...

It's a privilege.

I have to be thankful he didn't, uh...

He didn't suffer.

He didn't know what it is to be old.

In this age, you are not yet old... 64.

On Tuesday, he didn't know that
on Wednesday he will die

without pains.

This is the greatest miracle
and privilege,

and I am thankful every day
100, 100, 100 times.

It depends on me whether life
is good or not... on me.

Not on life, on me.

Everything is good or bad.
I look at the good side.

I think perhaps
we don't take life for granted.

It was given to us twice...
Once we were born

and then... then we didn't die,

contrary to the intention of the Germans,

and we had another chance.

I suppose maybe we, uh...
We used it more consciously,

didn't just take it for granted.

"Well, you live in this world
and we are very depressed,"

and whatever people indulge in.

Even today,

Alice relentlessly practices
the music that she loves.

After a century at the keyboard,

she's still searching for perfection.

Without work, you can't achieve anything.

Millions and millions of hours
working on what you love.

When you love something,
work and work and work

and work it.

A lot of German journalists
come and want to know,

speak with me and so on.

Before they enter my room, they ask,

"Are we allowed to enter your room?

Do you not hate us?"

So my answer is, "I never hated
and I never hate."

Hatred brings only hatred.

We should thank Bach,

Beethoven to Brahms
to Schubert to Schumann.

They gave us beauty.

They gave us undescribable beauty.

They made us more happy.

The remarkable Alice Sommer...

At 109, the oldest
Holocaust survivor in the world.

Only when we are so old... only...

We are aware of the beauty of life.