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

4.5 out of 5 stars 145 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"A survivor of Theresienstadt and a world-class Czech pianist shares her amazing story of survival and triumph. Now living in London since she relocated from Jerusalem to be closer to her only son (now deceased), Herz-Sommer is shortly turning 108, still playing the piano, disciplined and abstemious in her daily habits and fairly active, as Stoessinger records over interviews with her between 2004 and 2011. These are short segments that amplify important aspects of her life, such as her acquaintanceship as a young girl in Prague with Franz Kafka and his circle, her happy though too-brief marriage and successful early career as a concert pianist and teacher, the birth of her son in 1937 just as the Nazis were exerting their terror over the Jewish community in Prague and their abrupt deportation to Theresienstadt in 1943. …[W]hat Stoessinger’s work reveals startlingly and firsthand are details of life in the concentration camp, especially how the musicians coped with the horrible conditions and even formed a vibrant community. … 'Every concert played there,' Stoessinger writes, 'became a moral victory against the enemy.' … Rounding out this work are memories from Herz-Sommer’s students and friends, reflections on favorite authors such as Spinoza, Rilke and Zweig and even recipes."—Kirkus Reviews

“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
“Caroline Stoessinger’s celebration of music and life and of the meaning and legacy of Alice Herz-Sommer’s remarkable, love-filled journey across the bitter, hate-filled years of twentieth-century madness is lyrical, compelling, and profoundly moving. This is an extraordinary, enchanting, entirely inspiring book—most timely and needed now.”—Blanche Wiesen Cook

From the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Caroline Stoessinger is artist-in-residence at John Jay College, CUNY, and president of The Mozart Academy, where lessons are tuition-free for immigrant children. She produced the New York tribute to Alice Herz-Sommer on Alice’s 104th birthday with narrator Lynn Redgrave, the first New York performance of Brundibar, and the dedication of the Schindler violin at the U.S. Memorial Holocaust Museum; and she was artistic director of the Legacy of Shoah film festivals in Prague and New York. Stoessinger is a specialist in the music performed in Theresienstadt, and as a pianist she has premiered works in New York by Theresienstadt composers Hans Krása, Pavel Haas, and Stepan Lucky. She has spoken worldwide for YPO and the Chief Executive’s Forum and is now working on a documentary film the life of Alice Herz-Sommer.

Product Details

  • Audio CD: 6 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Audio; Unabridged edition (March 20, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307967670
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307967671
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 1.1 x 5.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (145 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,516,517 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Before you think that, a story about a 108 year-old Holocaust survivor will be sad, think again. This is no re-hash of history. Amazingly upbeat, the author gives us an accurate account of Alice Herz-Sommer's life. (Having seen a brief documentary featuring Mrs. Herz-Sommer several years ago, I know her portrayal is accurate.)

Alice will destroy every concept you may have about old people. "She says that, just because she is old in years, she is not irrelevant. And more insistently Alice says, 'My mind is young. My emotions and my imagination are still young.' Then with a whimsical bit of laughter, 'Of course, I do have some experience.' 'You cannot see the real me inside my wrinkled skin, the life of my emotions. What you see is only the outer face of a very old woman.'

Zest for life emanates from her. Herz-Sommer, a concert pianist, lives through her music. Embracing Spinoza's philosophy, she believes that, "....death and life are part of the same infinity or God...We come from and return to Infinity." "Things are as they are supposed to be. I am still here--never too old so long as I breathe to wonder, to learn, and yes, still to teach. Curiosity--interest in others, and, above all, music. This is life." It is not only her exquisite musical talent that makes her extraordinary. This ability to question and learn and find joy in life--despite its tragedies--is what defines her as a remarkable woman.

Even her philosophy about child-rearing when she was a young mother was counter to her times. She believed children could never have too much love. And in the concentration camp, it was her love and indomitable cheerfulness with which she raised her only child, her son, Rafi. She epitomizes her creed, "I never give up hope.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Remarkable lives make for remarkable books, and a life that intersected with Kafka, Meir, and Hitler with still no sign of fading at 108 is quite remarkable. Several books have described Herz-Sommer's life. This one focuses on her musical talents, her optimism, and her wisdom as to how to get through life with honor and happiness despite hardships. Far from a self-help book, however, the text presents Herz-Sommer's history through various glimpses of her life - her early childhood recollections, her days in a concentration camp, the career - and eventually the death - of her son, alongside stories of peeling potatoes with Golda Meir and walks through a park with Kafka.

The book is a quick read, both well-written and compelling, thanks to the work of Caroline Stoessinger through many hours of interviews and friendship with the subject. One cannot help but feel some sadness for an individual who has outlived her home, her child, and indeed her entire country; and yet Herz-Sommer's outlook remains upbeat and she remains surrounded by friends and musical colleagues. How she has achieved this is the basic topic of the entire text, a firm lesson as to one way - perhaps the best way - of living and leading a rich and fruitful life.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
A Century of Wisdom is a tribute to Alice Herz-Sommer, the world's oldest living Holocaust survivor. This book does not focus on Alice's experiences in the Holocaust. She did not want to talk about her time in Theresienstadt; a way station to Auschwitz for many, and known as the `model' German concentration camp where she gave concerts. Alice played more than a hundred concerts there between 1943 and liberation.

Music gave her hope and helped the other prisoners forget finding their names on transport lists to Auschwitz, and their hunger and their harsh surroundings. (More than 156,000 passed through the gates of Theresienstadt and only 11% would survive.)

The book skims across the surface of Alice's life, beginning with her idyllic early days in Czechoslovakia, her time as a prisoner in Theresienstadt, to her time in Israel and London. The book focuses less on Alice's time as a concentration camp prisoner and more on Alice's illustrious musical career and famous people she knew.

There are some interesting anecdotes about Kafka who was a friend of Alice's sister's fiancé. Alice remembered Kafka as an `eternal child' who when he couldn't decide what to study, became a lawyer. He was often late and often got lost, and made up stories of wild imaginary beasts and could be a lot of fun.

Alice became friends with Israel's Prime Minister, Golda Meir and tells about the day Golda helped her peel potatoes in her kitchen.

The book jumps around in time which at times makes the narrative difficult to follow, but this is more an observation than a criticism. There is little to criticize here. It was written about, and with the help of, a woman who is 107 years old who has had a long and rich and interesting life.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Perhaps I expected too much but when the world's oldest living Holocaust survivor and pianist, Alice Herz-Sommer decides to tell her story, you do expect it at least to be interesting. However, Ms. Herz-Sommer decides not to share much about her experiences in the camps because it is too depressing. Mainly, she wishes to talk about having met Kafka, and Kafka's life and Kafka's philosophy. This isn't Kafka's story, this is her story. The guidance and editing on this memoir is very poor. It jumps from one period of time to another and one subject to another. Regarding her skills as a pianist, we only learn that she practiced a lot, not how she felt when she played, what pieces she played, how she felt about the composers she played. Anyone worth their salt as a pianist, feels these things, notices these things. Her artistic journey is missing in this book. It is a frustrating book because you feel it could have been great if the right questions had been asked and much better editing and guidance.
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