On October 10, 2010, I wrote a brief blog (“Music Is God”) about Alice Herz-Sommer, who at 107 was the oldest surviving Holocaust survivor. Alice, now 108, is at last receiving the notice she deserves. The video about her I mentioned in that first post, “Alice Herz Sommer in A Century of Wisdom,” which at that time had been removed from YouTube, is now back, along with several others listed in the right-hand sidebar that are equally worthwhile. I have revised the initial post, in case you want to go back and read it again.
Recently, I finished a moving and well written book about this amazing individual called A Century of Wisdom: Lessons from the Life of Alice Herz-Sommer, the World’s Oldest Living Holocaust Survivor (New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2012). The author, Caroline Stoessinger, is also a concert pianist, interviewed Alice for many hours during a seven-year period. During Alice’s childhood in Prague, she spent weekends and holidays in the company of such luminaries as Franz Kafka, Gustav Mahler, Sigmund Freud, and Rainer Maria Rilke. After she moved to Israel, Golda Meir, Arthur Rubinstein, Leonard Bernstein, and Isaac Stern attended her house concerts. Much of the book is devoted to Alice’s experiences in Theresienstadt, where she was incarcerated with her young son. Her positive attitude — and, of course, her music — enabled them both to survive. Her parents and her husband did not.
Fortuitously, just last night I was reading the new summer issue of Jewish Book World, in which this book was reviewed, along with another about recent book Alice about which I hadn’t yet heard. Entitled Alice’s Piano: The Life of Alice Herz-Sommer (St. Martin’s Press, 2012). this one was authored by Melissa Müller and longtime friend of Alice’s, Reinhard Piechocki. In the Foreword, written by Alice herself, she states her view that music “takes us to paradise.”
However difficult our lives may seem at times, few of us have been through struggles and traumas as severe as those that marked Alice Herz-Sommer’s long and interesting sojourn on this earth. If you want to be inspired, learn more about Alice. Absorb her lessons on how to face all that life offers — the beautiful and the horrific — and still move ahead excited about each day and positive about living. Hers is a powerful message for us all.