Few people embody this quite like pianist and Holocaust survivor Alice Herz-Sommer, who at the age of 109 is the subject of a new documentary, "The Lady in Number 6". A promo for it is here: http://bit.ly/1bbAfnV
Having never had the pleasure of meeting Alice myself, I invited the pianist Luiza Borac to offer her recollections of when she met Alice around three years ago. The happy meeting is captured below - Alice was then at the age of 106 and obviously in fine form. Luiza's words bring both the personality and the occasion to movingly and vividly life. Thank you for your willingness to share, Luiza!
" 'You must meet Alice' said the newly met friends to me during an award ceremony, and the stories about her which followed were like nothing I have ever heard before. It was not just the facts they were reporting about and which were both gruesome because of the war atrocities and also enlightening because of her music; but the way those incredible stories were told, the expression and the emotion in their voices. It made me book a flight to London as soon as I could and as I finally reached London Hampstead I knew I was about to meet somebody very special. But whatever I thought it might be expecting me after ringing the doorbell was surpassed in a second by what followed after that. As I stepped very nervously into the corridor looking for Alice's door I suddenly heard a loud manly voice speaking german in a strange tone. At the end of the corridor the door was opened and it looked like the Number 6, the right one. The voice was clearer now, it sounded somehow narratory and it became obvious that it came from Alice's flat. 'Another guest' I thought. Then Alice came at the door, smiled at me like we knew each other already for a long time than she said: 'Stefan Zweig'!
She showed me in her flat and there we sat down, with her cassette-player turned quite loud in front of us, listening to a recording of the book 'The World of Yesterday' by Stefan Zweig, read onto tape by my friend who mentioned Alice to me for the first time. It was like I suddenly stepped into a dream or into another world. There I was seated next to the most famous pianist in the world listening to the deeply moving words of Stefan Zweig, only 1 minute after meeting her …
It must have been for quite a long time, my nervousness was long gone, and so was my feeling of time and space. We listened to the entire tape, after which Alice said to me : 'Isn't he great? He is the greatest!' Then we talked for a while, Alice was pointing very often to the big painting on the wall of her son, Raphael, whom she loved and missed so much. The whole meeting was floating among words, glances, smiles and laughters light and wonderful like a dance of essences. I was a pianist who came to meet a pianist, still none of the words we exchanged referred directly to piano playing. Alice told me about her busy schedule. With her 106 years old she was attending the University classes every day. On Monday we have Literature, Tuesday History Wednesday Art and so on. Her eyes were sparkling with joy and enthusiasm, she was loving to learn, 'there is still so much to learn' she said. Alice is a fragile appearance but what a strength and wonder in her. So small in her height, she seemed to me like a huge fairy who was flying high above and I was one of her reign creatures trying to comprehend her greatness, beauty and love. As I left her warm presence I knew that I just had the greatest lesson on piano-playing, on music, on life."
Photo: courtesy of Luiza Borac