In March 1965, 82-year-old peace activist Alice Herz immolated herself in opposition to US military action in Vietnam

Published on March 26, 2024, by Il Grido del Popolo©️

Alice Strauss Herz was born in Hamburg, Germany on May 25, 1882, the child of a middle-class Jewish family. She married Paul Herz, a chemist and soldier, with whom she had two children, a son and a daughter. After the death of her son and husband, Alice began intensive study of the Nazi movement. In order to escape its threat, in 1933 Alice fled to Switzerland, and then to France, with her daughter.

After Germany invaded Paris, the pair were placed in a detention camp by the French for being German nationals; they were released, after three weeks, at the time of the French armistice. Alice and Helga (her daughter) left for the United States soon after in 1942.

Alice and Helga took up residency in Detroit, Michigan, where Alice worked for some years as an adjunt instructor of German at Wayne State University, and Helga earned a degree in library science from the University of Michigan and became a librarian at the Detroit Public Library, where she served for 34 years. They petitioned for, but were denied, U.S. citizenship due to their refusal to vow to defend the country by taking up arms. Helga later reapplied and was granted citizenship in 1954.

Both Alice and Helga were activists for peace. In her later years, Alice joined the Society of Friends (Quakers) and later the Unitarian Church. More and more she became concerned over the actions of her adopted country and felt compelled to do something drastic. She took note of the monks in Vietnam who immolated themselves as a bodily witness against war, and Alice decided to do the same. On the evening of March 16, 1965, on a Detroit street corner, Alice set herself on fire in an act of protest against the actions of the United States in Vietnam and in relation to the global arms race. Alice died of her burns 11 days after the incident. Her sacrifice led to an outcry around the world and her memorial brought people from a variety of backgrounds to honor her. In particular, the Detroit Women for Peace took the actions of Alice as a push to protest and demand peaceful change.