A Century of Wisdom : Lessons from the Life of Alice Herz-Sommer, the World's Oldest Living Holocaust Survivor
by Caroline Stoessinger and Vaclav Havel and Linda Korn

Overview - The subject of the Academy Award-winning documentary "The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life, " Alice Herz-Sommer was the world's oldest Holocaust survivor when she died on February 23, 2014. "A Century of Wisdom "is the true story of her life--an inspiring story of resilience and the power of optimism.  Read more...

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More About A Century of Wisdom by Caroline Stoessinger; Vaclav Havel; Linda Korn
The subject of the Academy Award-winning documentary "The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life, " Alice Herz-Sommer was the world's oldest Holocaust survivor when she died on February 23, 2014. "A Century of Wisdom "is the true story of her life--an inspiring story of resilience and the power of optimism.
Before her death at 110, the pianist Alice Herz-Sommer was an eyewitness to the entire last century and the first decade of this one. She had 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. Until the end of her life Alice, who lived in London, practiced 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 was victorious in her ability to live a life without bitterness. She credited 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.
Praise for "A Century of Wisdom"
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"An instruction manual for a life well lived."--"The Wall Street Journal"
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"As if her 108 years of experience alone were not enough to coax you, there is the overarching fact that draws people to Herz-Sommer's story: She survived the Theresienstadt concentration camp and is believed to be the oldest living Holocaust survivor."--"The Washington Post"
"I have rarely read a Holocaust survivor's memoir as enriching and meaningful. Get Caroline Stoessinger's book, "A Century of Wisdom, "telling Alice Herz-Sommer's tale of her struggles and triumphs. You will feel rewarded."--Elie Wiesel
""A Century of Wisdom" is a stately and elegant book about an artist who found deliverance in her passion for music. Caroline Stoessinger writes with a special purity, as though she were arranging pearls on a string of silk."--Pat Conroy
"As one of millions who fell in love on YouTube with Alice Herz-Sommer, a 108-year-old Holocaust survivor who plays the piano and greets each day with no hint of bitterness, I'm grateful to Caroline Stoessinger for writing a book that explains this mystery. You will be inspired by the story of Alice Herz-Sommer, who lives to teach us."--Gloria Steinem
"I walked on the cobblestones in Prague for thirty years wondering who might have walked on them before me: Kafka, Freud, Mahler. It feels like a miracle to have encountered, in Caroline Stoessinger's wonderful book, Alice Herz-Sommer, who walked with them all--with a heart full of music."--Peter Sis

"From the Hardcover edition."

  • ISBN-13: 9780307967671
  • ISBN-10: 0307967670
  • Publisher: Random House
  • Publish Date: March 2012
  • Dimensions: 1.25 x 5.25 x 6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 0.4 pounds

Related Categories

Books > Biography & Autobiography > Historical - General
Books > History > Holocaust

BookPage Reviews

Quiet lives disturbed

There’s nothing flashy or flamboyant in Graham Swift’s finely wrought new novel, Wish You Were Here. Its pace is moderate, its tone restrained, but its elegiac mood, so wonderfully evoked by John Lee’s darkly lyrical reading, draws you into the life of Jack Luxton, the last of a dairy-farming family in rural England. A big, rough man, “mild as a lamb,” he sold the family farm at the urging of his wife, a farmer’s daughter he’s known all his life, and moved with her to the Isle of Wight to run a successful caravan park. The news that Jack’s younger brother, who joined the army years before, has been killed in Iraq turns Jack’s narrow existence upside down. It’s a jolt that unleashes a flood of memories and as he mulls them over again and again, you have a sense of this stolid man’s raw emotions, the ache his brother’s loss leaves, his regrets for all that might have been said, all the “ifs” and “shoulds,” and how hard it is for him, as for all of us, to make sense of life and of death.

Alice Herz-Sommer is 108 years old, the oldest Holocaust survivor and the oldest living concert pianist. She still plays the piano every day, she still laughs and still believes that life is a gift. Through interviews she had with Alice over the last seven years, Caroline Stoessinger, a concert pianist herself, has captured her essence in A Century of Wisdom. Alice grew up in Prague in a music-loving, intellectual family—she called Kafka “uncle Franz,” sat on Mahler’s knee and was a well-known concert pianist when she, her husband and small son were deported to Theresienstadt concentration camp in 1943. She and her son survived; her mother and husband and countless friends were murdered. An eyewitness to the horrors of the 20th century, Alice is never bitter. She remains optimistic, rejoicing in the things she has, especially her music; she’s a model for living a richer life. There’s a lot to learn from this extraordinary woman and this audio presentation is a good place to begin.

Ciao, Guido, how wonderful to have you back! And thank you, Donna Leon, for giving us another Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery, read again by David Colacci with just the right hint of an Italian accent. Beastly Things revolves around the murder of a kind veterinarian who unwittingly got enmeshed in the sordid, illegal doings at a slaughterhouse and, like all its 20 predecessors, is set in Venice. Though Leon is a clever crafter of plot and amazingly knowledgeable about Italian police procedure and the internal machinations of Questura, other qualities also make this series shine: her ability to conjure up this beautiful sinking city, with its calles and canals, her skill in creating a detective with affecting humanity and a love of humanism—a man we’d all like to spend time with, whether sharing a glass of prosecco or a discussion of his beloved Marcus Aurelius—and her subtle way of weaving real political concerns into her novels.  

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