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A Century of Wisdom

Publisher Spiegel and Grau/Random House, April 2012

An inspiring story of resilience and the power of optimism–the true story of Alice Herz-Sommer, the world’s oldest living Holocaust survivor, and the pianist who was the subject of an inspiring You Tube video that moved millions of viewers.

At nearly 108 years old, the pianist Alice Herz-Sommer is the world’s oldest Holocaust survivor. An eyewitness to the entire last century and the first decade of this one, she has 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 friends of her mother. When Alice moved to Israel after the war, Golda Meir became a friend and attended her house concerts, as did Arthur Rubinstein, Leonard Bernstein, and Isaac Stern, and she was friendly with Daniel Barenboim, whom she heard play when he was just a child. Today Alice lives in London, where she still practices 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 has been victorious in her ability to live a life without bitterness. She credits 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.

“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

“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

“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

A Century of Wisdom