A Century of Wisdom: Lessons from the Life of Alice Herz-Sommer, the World’s Oldest Living Holocaust Survivor

Spiegel & Grau  2012

 
A Century of Wisdom: Lessons from the Life of Alice Herz-Sommer, the World’s Oldest Living Holocaust Survivor by Caroline Stoessinger tells the inspirational story of 108-year-old gifted pianist Alice Herz-Sommer. It is a tale of the power of music and its effects on listeners and performers, when coupled with a generosity of spirit and an optimistic outlook.

In July, 1943, Alice, her husband and her six year old son, Rafi, were taken from Czechoslovakia and sent to Theresienstadt, the so-called “model” concentration camp where, according to Nazi propaganda, distinguished Jewish musicians, writers, scientists, artists, and the elderly were to be “protected from the war.” The real world revealed otherwise. Of the 156,000 Jews confined to Theresienstadt, only 17,500 would survive. Of the 15,000 Jewish children sent to the camp, approximately 100 survived, among them her son Rafi. It was at that camp that Alice Herz-Sommer served as a pianist and played at more than one hundred programs for her fellow inmates and secretly gave piano lessons to children in the camp.

After the war, Alice moved to Israel with her young son to join relatives. Her son developed into an accomplished cellist. When he moved to England to further his musical career, Alice joined him. Throughout, her musical talents kept her performing and teaching. Weaved into the story are vignettes describing Alice’s personal experiences with great musicians,writers, and Israeli political leaders, including Gustav Mahler, Daniel Barenbaum, Franz Kafka, Max Brod, and Golda Meier.

The author, Caroline Stoessinger, interviewed Alice for countless hours from 2004 to 2011 and this memoir is filled with the wisdom Alice accumulated over more than a century of living her life, she says, the right way. Stoessinger is herself an accomplished pianist who has performed at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center and is a long time member of the Tokyo String Quartet. Bibliography, endnotes, photographs.

 

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