Alice Herz-Sommer has had a remarkable life and, at 108, might squeeze out a few more years. Of course I am interested in anyone alive who actually conversed with Kafka, but her life and accomplishments are astounding.
Alice Herz-Sommer (photo Polly Hancock)
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"Herz-Sommer remembers Kafka as kind, indecisive and always “dressed for the office.” He was a regular at the house; he came to a Passover Seder and helped the kids search for the afikomen, the hidden matzo. One summer day, he took young Alice and her twin sister, Mitzi, for a hike; over a lunch of “magic sandwiches,” he told stories about “wild, imaginary beasts”
Oldest Living Shoah Survivor Still Smiling
Pianist Alice Herz-Sommer Has Seen Enough for Two Lifetimes
By Gordon Haber
A Century of Wisdom: Lessons From the Life of Alice Herz-Sommer, the World’s Oldest Living Holocaust Survivor
By Caroline Stoessinger
Spiegel & Grau, 256 pages, $23
Caroline Stoessinger recounts all this in “A Century of Wisdom,” and I hope the reader will forgive me for feeling a little trapped. Given all of the above, how could I say anything bad about the book? How could any critic possibly be objective about it?Let us consider the astonishing story of pianist Alice Herz-Sommer. Born in prewar (that is, pre-World War I) Prague, Herz-Sommer survived Theresienstadt, made aliyah and finally settled in London. Along the way, she crossed paths with such world-historical figures as Gustav Mahler, Franz Kafka and Golda Meir. Now 108, Herz-Sommer is renowned for her optimism — and for being the world’s oldest living Holocaust survivor.
Maybe it’s best, before evaluating the book itself, to say more about its estimable subject. Herz-Sommer was born in 1903 to a merchant father and a cultured mother who were friendly with Thomas Mann and Rainer Maria Rilke, as well as Mahler and Kafka.