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

3.81  ·  Rating Details  ·  591 Ratings  ·  128 Reviews
An inspiring story of resilience and the power of optimism—the true story of Alice Herz-Sommer, the world’s oldest living Holocaust survivor.

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 Eichman
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published March 20th 2012 by Spiegel & Grau (first published January 1st 2012)
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Community Reviews

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When Alice Sommer was a young woman, she was deported to Theresienstadt concentration camp along with her six-year-old son Rafi and husband Leopold. A hugely successful concert pianist in Czechoslovakia her music, she feels, saved her life. In the camp she was able to keep Rafi with her because of his age, but Leopold was taken to the men's side of the camp. She never saw him again.

The devastation of not being able to keep Rafi from hunger tore at her, but with him by her side she could keep hi
Jul 14, 2012 Jo rated it liked it
Shelves: biography-memoir
I both liked and was disappointed by this book. I think the title is misleading. Had they sent it out with a different title I may not have been disappointed. I picked it up, in part, because it was about the “world’s oldest Holocaust survivor” – if you’re looking for Holocaust survival stories, this book isn’t for you. I also picked it up because was titled “A Century of Wisdom” and was about a 108 year old woman – think of the history she’s seen! Alice Herz-Sommer is the oldest living survivor ...more
Look at the complete title of this book. The book is more about Alice Herz-Sommer's life philosophy than the events that shaped that philosophy. She is the oldest living holocaust survivor. Yes, she is still living and will be 110 in November 2013. She and her son survived the Theresienstadt concentration camp. She has met many famous musicians, conductors, composers, philosophers, authors and politicians. She speaks of their accomplishments and how she came to know each of them. Kafka she met w ...more
3.5 stars.
As I read this, I was amazed by Alice’s ability to remain so positive in the face of all she had endured in her life. I was also surprised by some of her descriptions of life in the concentration camps - how she described some of it didn’t sound as bad as other accounts I have heard. Perhaps that is another example of her positivity - maybe the bad aspects didn’t stand out for her as long as she had the ability to make music.

This attitude carried on into other parts of her life - she m
Apr 13, 2014 Elaine rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Alice Herz-Sommer is a truly inspirational woman, who did not allow the atrocities and losses she experienced in the Nazi concentration camps to affect the rest of her life. She lived life to the fullest and was grateful for every single thing, whether big or small, she was given. We all can learn from Alice and live and be happy in the present. In Alice's own words " Every day is a miracle. No matter how bad my circumstances, I have the freedom to choose my attitude to life,even to find joy.No ...more
Apr 08, 2014 Laurel rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, history
At 109, Alice Herz-Sommer is the oldest living Holocaust survivor. She was born in Prague in 1903 and became an accomplished classical pianist by the time she was in her 30s. However, her life changed suddenly in 1942 when she and her family were seized by Nazi soldiers and placed in a concentration camp. There, her talents as a musician saved her life. The Nazis wanted to create a propaganda film in order to give the false impression that the Jews in their camp were being treated well. Herz-Som ...more
Jun 21, 2013 Judith rated it liked it
In this biography, the author attempts to highlight the life and passions of Alice Herz-Sommers' journey as a 108-year old Holocaust survivor who credits her love of music for her living through the madness of Theresienstadt with her son, Rafi. Her talent surely had much to do with her survival as the Nazis used the camp and its musicians as an "example" of how well they were treating their enemies at the time. There are very bleak stories of Alice's times in the camp and her encouragement to he ...more
Julie Dawson
Jan 28, 2016 Julie Dawson rated it it was amazing
Disclaimer: I received an Advanced Review Copy of this book.

In our modern time of professional victimhood and taking offense at the most minute of slights, Caroline Stroessinger's A Century of Wisdom's greatest lesson may be that no one can diminish you without your consent. The book focuses on the remarkable life story of pianist Alice Herz-Sommer, the world's oldest living Holocaust survivor.

Strossinger details Herz-Sommer's early life Prague and her captivity at the Theresienstadt concentrati
Joy H.
Jan 16, 2015 Joy H. marked it as watched-film-only
Shelves: memoir, holocaust, music

Last night (1/15/15) I streamed a very unusual documentary entitled:
"The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life" (2014)
It is an Academy Award-winning documentary (2014). So inspiring!

"Czech pianist and holocaust survivor Alice Herz-Sommer describes how music enabled her to survive one of the darkest chapters in human history."

I was looking around for some
Apr 08, 2014 Dolly rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who enjoy reading biographies
This is an engaging biography of a woman who survived the holocaust, and was made famous in the Academy-award winning documentary, The Lady in Number 6, for being the oldest living holocaust survivor.

Her passion for music is the highlight of the book, as is her amazingly positive outlook on life and death. I have added to this review many of the memorable quotes from the book, but I must say that the book is just filled with inspirational messages.

The narrative is very enlightening and through
Jan 16, 2014 Kriegslok rated it liked it
A biography whose title sums up in short who and what it's all about. A fairly swift read and given the subject matter quiet a light work. Alice (a gifted pianist in pre-war Europe) speaks through the author Catherine Stoessinger who fills also descibes Alice's life from a middle class childhood in Czechoslovakia, to the Nazi showpiece concentration camp of Theresienstadt (where a Nazi admirer of her talent promised ALice and her son would appear on no deportation list) , the freedom of the earl ...more
Mar 11, 2014 Jackie rated it it was ok
I wanted to love this book. Unfortunately it didn't live up to its promise. While the reading was moderately interesting, there was nearly a complete lack of emotional involvement for me - even though it is clear that the author has a deep affection for her subject. Even the title felt misleading. I didn't think there were really any lessons shared, just some chapters lauding a person for her perseverance.

Alice lived an incredible life. Filled with amazing experiences, wonderful people and grea
Apr 17, 2013 Emily rated it it was amazing
In contrast to Alice's Piano, A Century of Wisdom is not chronological. Rather, it is a stirring collection of the lessons Professor Herz-Sommer has learned over her hundred-plus years on earth. It is astounding to me to read of her triumphs over her struggles, but even more so to read of her unfailing optimism and cheerful attitude. It’s also a testament to the resilience and power of the human will.

Since I can’t improve upon them, here are her own words:

“I love people. All kinds of people. I l
Holly Weiss
"I Never Give up Hope"

Encouraged by great musicians Gustav Mahler and Artur Schnabel and on the brink of a career as a pianist, Alice Herz-Sommer’s world crumbled in 1943. She, along with her husband and son, were deported to Theresienstadt. She survived the Holocaust and the loss of many family members and yet, celebrates life. Hers is a rich tapestry, woven with threads of hope, artistry, grace, courage and inspiration. The mystical, healing powers of music helped her transcend the horrors she
Apr 10, 2012 Jessica rated it really liked it
This book is an account of the amazing life of Alice Herz-Sommer, the world's oldest living Holocaust survivor. Alice is now 108 years old and still plays piano for a few hours every day and lives alone. Alice grew up in Prague and her family was friends with famous artists and philosophers like Franz Kafka and Sigmund Freud. Alice had a career as a brilliant pianist and traveled all over Europe playing. Alice married her husband Leopold and they had one son, Rafi, when they were deported for Th ...more
Oct 31, 2012 Deb rated it liked it
This is the story of a woman who survived the Therezienstadt concentration camp with her young son and how she has led her life with an indomitable spirit afterward. Alice Herz-Sommer was already a concert pianist when the war started and Germany invaded her Czech homeland. The Terezien camp was considered a "model" camp for Hitler to parade before the International Red Cross. So arts were allowed to flourish, even as the artists were starving and diseased and sent by the thousands to Auschwitz ...more
Great book, I thought it would be more about the Holocaust and World War 2 than it was. It focused more on her life and her love of music. I did enjoy the book and loved hearing about Alice's life first in Praque then in Israel and finally in London. I enjoyed hearing how she found her talent and true love in life, music, and made it part of her life. It was also interesting to see how much she knew about her favorite composers and learned from their lives. I really did like the times it mention ...more
Donna Jo Atwood
What an inspiring story! At 108 years old, Alice Herz-Sommer has learned the art of living well. This is a woman who has seen the tender, the tough, the sweet, and the bitter in life and yet she looks forward to new experiences and new days. She has a rich life with her music and her friends and delights in using her mind to the best of her abilities. Would that we were all so gifted.
Feb 13, 2016 Linda rated it liked it
Shelves: 2016-books
The thing I like about reading Holocaust books is the hope and faith people had and what helped them survive the horrors of Nazi Europe. Everyone's story is different, everyone had something different that they clung to. This book is about how music is what kept her going and no matter how bad things were, she kept or tried to keep a positive outlook. Her positive attitude in life is what has given her purpose and joy and a very long life. It was interesting to read about her interactions growin ...more
Govaert David
Aug 24, 2015 Govaert David rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: wwii
Het boek brengt de biografie van de oudste overlevende van het ghetto van Terezin. Het brengt dus niet enkel haar ervaringen in het ghetto, maar zet haar ook neer als begenadigd pianiste die in haar leven contacten en vriendschappen opbouwde met tal van vooraanstaande (joodse) figuren uit de culturele en politieke wereld. Zelfs op 110 jarige leeftijd weet ze nog dagelijks kracht te putten uit haar favoriete pianostukken. In de meest duistere periodes van haar leven vormde de muziek de strohalm w ...more
May 09, 2015 Herbert rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Het boek gaat niet zo zeer over het concentratie kamp maar eerder hoe de liefde voor muziek al deze verschrikkingen en tegenslagen die Alice meemaakt overwint.
Oct 28, 2012 Rachel rated it it was ok
What I learned from this book: If you want to live to be more than 100, eat very little and drink lots of hot water.
May 02, 2014 Kirstjen rated it it was ok
Shelves: history, memoirs
This book is written like a fan article. It minimally tells the life story of Alice Herz-Sommer who was the oldest living holocaust survivor. The story tells us what a wonderful person she was, but not why. She played & taught the piano. She was not a very deep thinker, was not a member of the resistance, was not critical of her government in Czechoslovakia or Israel in any discernible way. She lived through some horrible things, and she seemed to sort of float above the horror. Her longevit ...more
Jul 20, 2014 Ruth rated it it was ok
I bought this book because I enjoyed a TV documentary. My advice would be to stick to the documentary. Probably sacrilege to say it, but I found the book surprisingly irritating. Firstly, there's not much of Alice Herz-Sommer's wisdom: just sprinklings through the book and then a couple of pages with various comments brought together, such as "I am never tired because my mind is active."

I took against this book when the author (Caroline Stoessinger) used the word "immigrate" when she meant "emig
May 05, 2014 Sue rated it really liked it
I saw the documentary about this woman and it inspired me so I bought the book to see what else might be included. She was someone who triumphed over tragedy, but she refused to look back to the past. She lived in the present which is what made her so happy. In addition, she was a concert pianist of the first class as a young woman and continued to practice more than 3 hours a day until she died. She lived until she was 110. What a great and inspiring life. I would have had even more admiration ...more
Aug 18, 2012 April rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone because her story is one that everyone should read and needs to read!!
Alice Herz-Sommer is an amazing woman, and reading her story just fascinated me!!

How she could go through what she did in life and not have an ounce of hatred in her bones is a true testament to her character!! I don't know that I could do it!!

The following are a few of her quotes that are my favorite:

"I can say war only leads to war. Nearly every religion in the world says 'Thou shalt not kill," yet most religions kill in the name of God. Even Hitler's daggers said 'Gott mit uns.'"

"Every day is
Dec 04, 2013 Rdonn rated it really liked it
This is the second book I've read about Alice Herz-Sommer, who turned 110 last week - the oldest Holocaust survivor. A remarkable woman whose career as a pianist had taken off in Czechoslovakia when Hitler and his thugs took over, and Jewish people were banned from almost all normal activities. She, her husband and 6-year old son were eventually deported to Terezin. Her sisters and their families had emigrated to Palestine just before that exit was closed, leaving Alice and her family to take ca ...more
Apr 16, 2012 Yary rated it it was amazing
I won this book from GoodReads First Reads.I loved this book, because Alice Herz-Sommer is such a strong women. To have lost her Husband and Mother in the Holocaust and was able to raise her son after war. This was the first time I have heard of Alice and I was glad that I was able to have met her through this book, just like all those wonderful people she has touched by her music and her love for people. It was great to know that she doesn't dawn in the past but lives her life in the present in ...more
Mar 20, 2012 Barbara rated it it was amazing
Usually I would end my book comments with a suggestion that the book be read.This is different....READ THIS BOOK!
I found it to be insightful into the era and FEELING of the times.The choices one makes in how we conduct out lives in the darkest of hours as well as the joys is a large part of why this book spoke to me.. A Century Of Wisdom speaks to what informs our belief in God and man.Above all We are reminded of the power of the arts,especially music.
Both Caroline Stoessinger,the author and A
Nov 26, 2012 Estelle rated it it was amazing
Alice is a miracle of a human being. The parts about Theresienstadt were horrifying of of the most disturbing parts was the inside look at the way the Nazi's forced the prisoners to participate in a propaganda film. The horror of the Holocaust is just beyond words, sometimes reading about it is too much for me, but I know it is important to remember. I just had to take breaks when reading as it really got to me.
Astounding to me was learning that the prisoners produced and acted a c
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“Every day is a miracle. No matter how bad my circumstances, I have the freedom to choose my attitude to life, even to find joy. Evil is not new. It is up to us how we deal with both good and bad.” 1 likes
“Every day is a miracle. No matter how bad my circumstances, I have the freedom to choose my attitude to life, even to find joy. Evil is not new. It is up to us how we deal with both good and bad. No” 0 likes
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