Lessons from the Life of Alice Herz-Sommer: The World's Oldest Living Holocaust Survivor

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

Look at the complete title of this book. The book is more about Alice Herz-Sommer's life philosophy than the events that shaped that philosophy. She is the oldest living holocaust survivor. Yes, she is still living and will be 110 in November 2013. She and her son survived the Theresienstadt concentration camp. She has met many famous musicians, conductors, composers, philosophers, authors and politicians. She speaks of their accomplishments and how she came to know each of them. Kafka she met when still a child. He was a friend of her older sister's husband. Gustav Mahler, Sigmund Freud, and Rainer Maria Rilke were friends of her mother. Golda Meir, Arthur Rubinstein, Leonard Bernstein, and Isaac Stern came to her informal concerts at home when she lived in Israel, and she offered piano lessons to teach Gold Meir. But honestly, it is more that she brushed shoulders with these people rather than that they were her very close friends.

She was a fantastic pianist. Music was the central theme of her life - always! Her love for music really shines through. Music is not just something she enjoys; it is something that is important and vital to all life. That is what this book says AND that one must face life with optimism.

Optimism. She refused to even talk about the years in Theresienstadt. Having survived she looked forward rather than backward. She never let those years be discussed at home after the war when she was raising her son. Complaining she frowned upon. Laughter and music were the medicine for all ills. The book is filled with lots of wise lines.....but although most all of us will agree on her wisdom and sage statements, it is only when you look at a particular event that one can determine the correct way of behaving. I will give only one example of what I am referring too. Some children benefit from talking about the difficult experiences they have gone through. Avoiding a topic is not always helpful. Talk is necessary for some people and in some situations. So generalizations, that we all agree on, are less interesting than figuring out what to do in a particular situation. The main emphasis of this book is her life philosophy, but there is no discussion of when and where and how to put these principles into practice. Do you see what bothered me?

I liked learning about her personal experiences in Theresienstadt. I am glad they were included in the book and not avoided. Many of her friends did not even know she was a holocaust survivor! That is the extent to which she refused to speak of those years.

I like the woman very much. I respect her. My rating is a judgment of the book, not the person. The book hops from one time to another, from one subject to another. There is a chapter on her friends, but we are told about their wonderful accomplishments more than about their relationship with Alice.

I listened to the audiobook narrated by Linda Korn. It was clearly spoken, but in a sweet tone of admiration that was not to my liking. She cannot do an Irish brogue, although she tries in a few lines spoken by the concierge of Alice's apartment building. Some of the names, and there were lots mentioned, I could not decipher. That is a clear advantage of a paper book.

For me, the most interesting parts about this book were her Theresienstadt memories and the parts about Kafka and Spinoza. I am very glad I have met Alice Herz-Sommer.