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

A Century of Wisdom by Caroline Stoessinger
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Jan 27, 12

bookshelves: historical-fictionistas, history, biography, non-fiction
Read from January 25 to 27, 2012

"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 lived through.

Alice lives by the words of Greek philosopher Epictetus, “He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.” An example of her resilience was how she gave concerts in Theresienstadt on an out-of tune piano with a broken pedal and keys that stuck. Playing piano passionately is not only her response to brutality, but also her testament to embracing an authentic life. Now, at age 108, plays piano and takes walks daily.

Author Caroline Stoessinger is also an accomplished concert pianist and patron of the arts. She does not present Alice’s life chronologically, but jumps back and forth in time in the biography. Notes from her research are included.

The book is full of vignettes about Alice’s life: picnicking with famous writer, Franz Kafka, secret piano lessons with concentration camp children, peeling potatoes with Golda Meir. Don’t miss the chicken soup recipe. The photographs of Alice playing the piano and laughing are priceless. Teacher, student and optimist Alice Herz-Sommer, rises above.

Reviewed by Holly Weiss, author of Crestmont
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