Post­ed by Nao­mi Firestone-Teeter

It’s the week of Alice! In this week’s book rec­om­men­da­tion email we fea­ture Alice’s Piano: The Life of Alice Herz-Som­mer (Melis­sa Müller and Rein­hard Piechoc­ki), which will be pub­lished on March 13th by St. Mar­t­in’s Press. And now, in our book cov­er of the week series, we fea­ture A Cen­tu­ry of Wis­dom: Lessons from the Life of Alice Herz-Som­mer, the World’s Old­est Liv­ing Holo­caust Sur­vivor (Car­o­line Stoessinger), which will be pub­lished by Spiegel & Grau on March 20th:

At 108 years old, the pianist Alice Herz-Som­mer is an eye­wit­ness to the entire last cen­tu­ry and the first decade of this one. She has seen it all, sur­viv­ing the There­sien­stadt con­cen­tra­tion camp, attend­ing the tri­al of Adolf Eich­mann in Jerusalem, and along the way com­ing into con­tact with some of the most fas­ci­nat­ing his­tor­i­cal fig­ures of our time. As a child in Prague, she spent week­ends and hol­i­days in the com­pa­ny of Franz Kaf­ka (whom she knew as Uncle Franz”), and Gus­tav Mahler, Sig­mund Freud, and Rain­er Maria Rilke were friend­ly with her moth­er. When Alice moved to Israel after the war, Gol­da Meir attend­ed her house con­certs, as did Arthur Rubin­stein, Leonard Bern­stein, and Isaac Stern. Today Alice lives in Lon­don, where she still prac­tices piano for hours every day.

Despite her impris­on­ment in There­sien­stadt and the mur­ders of her moth­er, hus­band, and friends by the Nazis, and much lat­er the pre­ma­ture death of her son, Alice has been vic­to­ri­ous in her abil­i­ty to live a life with­out bit­ter­ness. She cred­its music as the key to her sur­vival, as well as her abil­i­ty to acknowl­edge the human­i­ty in each per­son, even her ene­mies. A Cen­tu­ry of Wis­dom is the remark­able and inspir­ing sto­ry of one woman’s life­long deter­mi­na­tion — in the face of some of the worst evils known to man — to find good­ness in life. It is a tes­ta­ment to the bonds of friend­ship, the pow­er of music, and the impor­tance of lead­ing a life of mate­r­i­al sim­plic­i­ty, intel­lec­tu­al curios­i­ty, and nev­er-end­ing optimism. 

Orig­i­nal­ly from Lan­cast­er, Penn­syl­va­nia, Nao­mi is the exec­u­tive direc­tor of Jew­ish Book Coun­cil. She grad­u­at­ed from Emory Uni­ver­si­ty with degrees in Eng­lish and Art His­to­ry and, in addi­tion, stud­ied at Uni­ver­si­ty Col­lege Lon­don. Pri­or to her role as exec­u­tive direc­tor, Nao­mi served as the found­ing edi­tor of the JBC web­site and blog and man­ag­ing edi­tor of Jew­ish Book World. In addi­tion, she has over­seen JBC’s dig­i­tal ini­tia­tives, and also devel­oped the JBC’s Vis­it­ing Scribe series and Unpack­ing the Book: Jew­ish Writ­ers in Conversation.