Sommer died Sunday in London.
Born in Prague, Herz-Sommer, her husband, and son were sent to a concentration camp in the Czech city of Terezin — also known as Theresienstadt — where inmates were allowed to stage concerts in which she frequently starred.
An estimated 140,000 Jews were sent to Terezin and 33,430 died there. About 88,000 were moved on to Auschwitz and other death camps, where most of them were killed. She and her son, Stephan, were among fewer than 20,000 who survived.
Yet she remembered herself as ‘‘always laughing’’ during her time in Theresienstadt, where the joy of making music kept them going. Although the Nazis used the camp for propaganda, as Jews played concerts and performed plays there, children and their parents forcing smiles for the international press and Red Cross visitors, she said the music helped many endure. She performed more than 100 concerts there; Chopin, Schubert, and Beethoven were among her passions; and Stephan later became a concert cellist.
‘‘These concerts, the people are sitting there, old people, desolated and ill, and they came to the concerts and this music was for them our food. Music was our food. Through making music we were kept alive,’’ she once recalled, in an account by the Associated Press. ‘‘When we can play it cannot be so terrible.’’
Music always gave her hope. And perhaps most remarkably, while believing that every day is a gift, Herz-Sommer shed any bitterness and anger. Filmed in her East London apartment a few years ago for a documentary film, “Alice Dancing Under the Gallows,” she said, “Music is god. In difficult times you feel it, it helps your suffering.” The camera framed her brown eyes, still soft, almost unworldly so, and yet so grounded.
Then she recalled that one time at the camp, German journalists who came for interviews paused at her door, asking, “Do you mind if we come in? Don’t you hate us?”
“My answer was, ‘I never hate. Hatred brings only hatred.’”
Link to trailer for the “The Lady in Number 6”