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This review is from: A Century of Wisdom: Lessons from the Life of Alice Herz-Sommer, the World's Oldest Living Holocaust Survivor (Hardcover)
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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."
From Kafka, Mahler and Freud, to Frankl, Buber, and Baeck, Alice refined her own philosophies about life. She is decidedly pragmatic and unmaterialistic. Exuberance for learning and life, teaching and sharing music, and her love for others are what keep this centenarian alive.
No matter how old or young you are, Alice Herz-Sommer has something to share with all of us. This book would be excellent supplemental reading for students of psychology, gerontology, and philosophy. As additional reading in courses of history and the Holocaust, it provides personal testimony to the effects of political actions.
As parents we frequently search for ways to open conversations with our teenagers. Reading this biography and discussing it together will help you to share your own values and influence your child's mind.