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Alice's Piano: The Life of Alice Herz-Sommer

4.16  ·  Rating details ·  276 Ratings  ·  58 Reviews
How music provided hope in one of the world's darkest times—the inspirational life story of Alice Herz-Sommer, the oldest living Holocaust survivor
Alice Herz-Sommer was born in Prague in 1903. A talented pianist from a very early age, she became famous throughout Europe; but, as the Nazis rose to power, her world crumbled. In 1942, her mother was dep
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published March 13th 2012 by St. Martin's Press (first published March 7th 2007)
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May 31, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Through the experience of reading this book, I now understand some of what my Mother and her family experienced as prisoners of war in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany.
This life story of Alice Herz-Sommer, still living and now 108 years old, shows how her love of music along with a practical optimism allowed her to bear and transcend the suffering of her experiences during the Holocaust and throughout her life.
Though not a book of horrors, nothing is held back. A world-renowned concert p
Aug 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
At 109 years old, Alice Herz-Sommer is the oldest living Holocaust survivor. Alice’s Piano is her remarkable story.

As you may guess from the title, she is an extraordinarily talented and emotive pianist. Her talent and passion for music literally and emotionally saved her life and that of her son during the Holocaust.

Alice was raised in a financially and culturally established family in Prague. In 1943, Alice, her husband Leopold, and her 6-year old son, Stephan (Raphael) were deported to Theres
Aug 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
As I so often do I find myself struggling with the star factor. Five stars for Alice, her amazing story, her strength and optimism. But more like three stars for the book.

A few years ago I came across a youtube video about Alice and immediately added this book to my reading list. I was very eager to read more about this incredible woman, a concert pianist and the world's oldest concentration camp survivor. I feel guilty saying that the book disappointed me and yet it did. I found it very slow g
The story of Alice Herz-Sommer, the oldest known Holocaust survivor (she's 107), this is another great book by Melissa Muller. Muller wrote one of my favourite biographies of Anne Frank and wrote this one along with Reinhard Piechocki.

It's the story of Alice and her eternal optimism and how that helped her, and her young son, survive two years in a concentration camp.

Alice was/is a renowned concert pianist with seemingly boundless talent. She played something like a 100 concerts in the camp, fo
Jan Hawke
Three stars for the book as I did not like the writing style which I found overly simplistic but 5 stars for the heroine of it. I acquired this book on hearing of Alice's death and incredible life on radio 3. She was a truly inspiring person, teaching us as much about how to deal with old age as adverse conditions. I found the first part of the book hard going- so many friends and family members.....but the second part soon shook me out of my ennui.I have to admit I was equally shocked by the tr ...more
Jodi Tooke
May 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Not your typical holocaust survivor book. I appreciated the detailed references to Alice's passion for music and share her love of Chopin, Bach, Beethoven, and Czech music. Her positive outlook and conviction that we human beings must not learn to hate is timeless. She is truly inspiring.
Mar 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
Alice’s Piano is a straightforward, chronological biography of Alice Herz-Sommer’s amazing life. It was originally published in German as Ein Garten Eden immitten der Holle (or A Garden of Eden in the Middle of Hell), which perfectly describes what she created, along with the other Jewish musicians who were imprisoned in the Theresienstadt concentration camp. They produced operas, choir performances, orchestras, chamber concerts, all on the most ramshackle of instruments, often from scores repro ...more
Rebecca Foster
Like Władysław Szpilman (author of The Pianist), Herz-Sommer is a Holocaust survivor who attributes her endurance, at least in part, to the power of music. She was born in Prague in 1903, to well-educated, well-connected parents who were in contact with Franz Kafka and his literary circle. Her husband Leopold was also an amateur musician and they had one son, Raphael, who would go on to work as a cellist and conductor.

In 1943 all three family members were sent to Theresienstadt concentration cam
Dec 24, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Therese by: Book club selection

There are very few people who don't recognize the healing power of music, and while I know very little about classical music, this was a fascinating story of life and survival.

Alice Herz-Sommer was born in 1903 in Prague who turned out to have a musical talent that few people would ever see or be able to listen to. She was brought up in a fairly comfortable world even though her parents and siblings were considerably older. Her mother was not a happy woman, and Alice's twin was much more at
Leah K
Mar 06, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Alice’s Piano: The Life of Alice Herz-Sommer by Melissa Muller
349 pages


In February of this year there were reports of the world's oldest known Holocaust survivor, Alice Herz-Sommer, passing away at the age of 110 years old. As is the norm for me, I had to know more about this woman and asap! What an extraordinary life this woman lived. In 1943, Alice and her family were sent to Theresienstadt concentration camp. Many of Alice’s family and friends would perish in the next couple years but sh
Sep 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This was a well-written story about the Holocaust from a unique point of view.

Alice Herz-Sommer (incidentally, she's the oldest Holocaust survivor) was a talented pianist in Prague, Czechoslovakia. She was ranked among the best pianists in Europe and loved music. She was also a Jew, though she didn't practice her religion, except one of the High Holidays once a year. But when Hitler invaded Prague, she was forced into a ghetto with her husband and son.

This camp, fortunately for Alice, was a "sh
I'm pretty sure this is the first Holocaust-related book I've read as an adult- I usually avoid the subject in my reading since it hits so close to home. But this one involved music as well, so I couldn't turn it down. It was a great story about a truly inspiring woman. However, the writing was not great. I came across a couple of typos in this addition in fact. Of course, this edition is translated from German so not all the blame can go to the book and authors themselves. Some sections, howeve ...more
Oct 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
Alice Herz-Sommer was a well-known pianist in Czechoslovakia, who, with her husband and small son were transported to Terezin in 1942. She survived by her wonderful concerts - over 100 given in the evening in Terezin. Much of her repertoire was German - Beethoven, Brahms, but also Chopin. Several times she played all 24 of Chopin's Etudes in one evening. A feat rarely attempted by pianists. And this after a long day working in the laundry! These concerts, along with all the others, took the inma ...more
Jan 05, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The story of Alice Herz-Sommer, the oldest known Holocaust survivor (she's 107), this is another great book by Melissa Muller. Muller wrote one of my favourite biographies of Anne Frank and wrote this one along with Reinhard Piechocki.
It's the story of Alice and her eternal optimism and how that helped her, and her young son, survive two years in a concentration camp.
Alice was/is a renowned concert pianist with seemingly boundless talent. She played something like a 100 concerts in the camp, fo
Aug 08, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: the-holocaust
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Aug 25, 2012 rated it really liked it
At 108, Alice Herz-Sommer is the oldest living Holocaust survivior. Alice had made a name for herself as a concert pianist throughout Europe when she was deported to Theresienstadt concentration camp with her husband and her son. The piano was her salvation. Theresienstadt was used as a propaganda ploy to convince the world that the Jews were being treated humanely. Consequently, Alice gave hundreds of concerts that gave hope to her fellow prisoners. Alice says in the introduction that "it was m ...more
Sep 03, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is well written. I like the memoir in that it tells another aspect, situational story of the Holocaust from the usual stories within the concentration camp that we typically have heard and read about. It was a learning experience and eye opener since it told of this pianist who played within the ghetto and how music saved her life.

It does go into a lot of detail about classical music and specific musical compositions which being a musician myself found interesting and understandable. I
Eden Tanner
May 06, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Alice Herz-Sommers, the woman whose life story this book is based on, has awe-inspiring amounts of dedication, optimism, and versatility. Currently, she is 109 and is the oldest living survivor of the Holocaust. As with all Holocaust stories, there is a certain amount of heartbreak and disgust. However, this one differs for two reasons. Firstly, Alice is (as far as this can be said) one of the "lucky ones". Her musical talent protected her life and her son's and kept them from the death camps. S ...more
Pam Fullem
Aug 25, 2012 rated it really liked it
A amazing book about an amazing woman whose talent as a concert pianist allowed her and her son to survive in a "model" concentration camp and not get sent on to other death camps like many of her family, friends, and her beloved husband. She remains so positive about live, including outliving her only child, a son. She finds a way to remain positive and feel blessed in her life. Her love of music has pulled her through it all. She is in her 100's now, a model of how to live your life no matter ...more
Andrew Marshall
Oct 27, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Three books in one. At the most obvious level, it's the biography of the pianist Alice Herz-Sommer and how she survived Theresienstdat the Nazi concentration camp. However, it is also a portrait of Jewish life in Prague before the war and the story of countless other Jews who crossed the path of Herz-Sommer (so you get a sense of the scale of the tragedy that befell Eastern Europe). Finally, it's meditation on the importance of music, knowing what is truly important to you for leading the good l ...more
May 31, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I picked this book up and the name in England is "a garden of eden in hell". America got it right because the story is about an admirable woman who lived in Czechoslovakia for most of her life. She is a pianist who survived theirenstaadt by being able to play the Chopin etudes. I love the way the author dramatised the etudes with a story of the ghetto with all 24 etudes. She is still alive at 106 years. She swims 2 laps everyday now. But her sunny disposition is what makes the book a winner. wow ...more
May 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
A really interesting story about a remarkable woman. I think the world would be a much better place if there were more people like Alice Sommer in it. Amazingly, still practices the piano at 108 and with only 8 fingers that can still bend, due to arthritis. And despite all she has been through, she finds joy in every day and every moment. I hope one day I can mirror her positive attitude. I read the other book about her philosophy of life and liked it as well. This one really introduced the musi ...more
Sep 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Garden of Eden in Hell, newly published under a new title Alice's Piano is an extraordinary biography of an inspiring woman. This gentle book tackles, with grace, a horrific epic in world history. The holocaust is presented from a different perspective; a model concentration camp, and the aftermath of WW2 for displaced Jews.
Alice and her son as well, were gifted musicians so the book details music theory details and demands of performance art.
I found the book to be an inspiring, interesting &am
May 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
What a beautiful story of someone who lived through something most of us can only imagine. I find Alice to be a strong woman, a woman of determination, and I just love how she made it a point to squeeze the most she could out of life. Earlier in the book she talks of what she discovers as the "secrets of a fulfilled life". Her sister's "difficult marriage and destructive attitude to life [gave Alice] the powerful desire to be happy, to live a constructive life, and to pursue it for as long as sh ...more
Sep 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
This book and it's namesake will stay in my mind forever possibly. Alice Herz-Sommer has led a life that should lend inspiration to anyone and especially to pianists and mothers. As the oldest living survivor of the Holocaust, soon to be 109, there are many lessons in the gracious and determined manner with which she has led her life. The story deserves 5 stars and the writing perhaps 4 stars.
Mazzou B
Nov 11, 2015 rated it liked it
Just finished this biography. I really enjoyed it and was surprised I'd never heard about this musician before! It was fascinating to read the biography of a Jew who survived world war 2 solely because she was an amazing musician and performed regularly in Theresienstadt.
This book is a little long and just might have too many details which some readers might find tedious, but it is easy to speed read and worth a try!
May 07, 2013 rated it it was ok
story of a survivor of Theresienstadt. The style of writing is not very sophisticated. The camp part makes her experience to be like that movie, It's a Beautiful Life. She had the least horror of any book I have ever read on the subject. Apparently she was a famous pianist and playing is what saves her, not just in the camp but throughout her life-- she lived to over 100. Could have been compelling with writing that is better than just recording what she probably said.
Judith Johnson
Pleased to read this account of marvellous woman's life. My friend Peter Bolwell's account of his mother's life in Lore's Tale is another story of a survivor from a Jewish family from Prague that is well worth reading. I visited the synagogues of Prague when I visited some years back, and, unsurprisingly, was reduced to sobbing in a corner until I could move on. A sombre part of Europe's history ...
Mc Chanster
Feb 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I absolutely loved this novel. An incredible story about an incredible woman who has the most dedicated passion for her art. Alice has always loved the piano and music and enjoys it even now at (almost) 110 years old. Music was what saved her in Theresienstadt and there is no doubt that she will continue to practice her art for as long as she lives. A remarkable story of survival in one of the world's worst inhumanities.
Nov 17, 2014 rated it liked it
I got about halfway through this and decided not to finish it. Although it was very interesting, it was also hard to read as I imagined myself in that same situation. I also thought it was a slow read. Even though I'm a pianist myself, I found the parts that analyzed the various pieces she played to be quite dry. I really wanted to enjoy this one more than I did. Oh well!
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Melissa Müller (born 1967) is an Austrian journalist and author.

She was born in Vienna. After working as an au pair for some time in London, Müller decides first for a study of the management economics and German Studies, afterwards she worked for different restaurant editorships and - magazines.

More about Melissa Müller...

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“Een van de grootste geneugten van muziek is ervoor zorgen dat anderen ernaar luisteren, zodat je even het gevoel hebt dat je deel uitmaakt van een volmaakte wereld waarin alles goed is en mooi.” 1 likes
“Wat boffen we toch. We zijn de rijkste mensen op aarde. Veel rijker dan miljonairs. Mensen die geen muziek in hun leven hebben zijn heel, heel arm.” 1 likes
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