Alice Herz-Sommer. World’s oldest living holocaust survivor on finding beauty in life. (September 2020)

Susan's Thursday Morning Note September 17, 2020
Lessons from the Life of Alice Herz-Sommer, World’s Oldest Living Holocaust Survivor at time of writing...
Life is Beautiful. Quotes on Music

Good morning!!  The quietness of the morning.  My angel of dawn faithfully peering through my window with just a sliver of dawn behind her shoulder, encouraging me to enter the gift of another day.  Another beautiful day if we can remember to look up to the heavens and to hear the birds singing for us.  To drop to our knees, even if mentally, to be given a peace that passes the understanding of anyone around us.

This week I have been re-reading one of the most influential books on my shelf to give me perspective.  Lessons from the Life of Alice Herz-Sommer, the Worlds’ Oldest Living Holocaust Survivor by Caroline Stoessinger.  Alice was 108 years old when I first read her words, still practicing piano four hours daily, still giving interviews on how she lived her entire life looking forward, looking at the beauty of life. Her husband and mother were both killed in concentration camps.  Her son was five years old and was one of the only children to survive with her, for they were given pardon from a guard she never was able to identify who had whispered to her, “You will not be on any lists…” after hearing her play.  She died in 2014 at the age of 110.

This book is full of her constant thoughts on the beauty of music.  How those with music have a completely different perspective on life; the ability to cope with pressures and loss.  How music gives such beauty to life.  I highly encourage you to listen to the following YouTube video.  One of her hands on the piano keyboard at the age of 108…you will notice how one finger on each hand has lost the ability to play because of arthritis.  Absolutely beautiful.  The other interview captures her contagious smile. Her love for creation.  For nature.  For life.  Following words by her on finding beauty regardless of life experiences are quotes on music.  Music.  Birds singing.  Chimes.  Cicadas.  All adding to the choir that helps us remember to look up to the hills.  To help us keep our songs beautiful even during movements of mainly minor keys.

Interview with Alice at 108 years old – her repeating “Life is Beautiful!” 

Alice playing piano near her 108th birthday.

Alice played in symphonies, was put into a concentration camp named Theresienstadt, a camp used for propaganda purposes, one where movies were made showing symphonies and famous prisoners.  Her stories are heartbreaking of famous musicians after being filmed being taken to Auschwitz to die.  She had her five year old with her in camp, so her entire life, even as a prisoner, had to be one of seeing the beauty of her surroundings, finding a smile, finding a laugh, finding hope.  In the camp she gave more than 100 concerts, performing all of Chopin’s Etudes from memory.  She speaks often in this book of how music was brought to a new level of perfection and beauty in the horror of the camp, for this was when the musicians had to go deeper in their souls to play, which made the music even more beautiful. She speaks often in this book of her love for Beethoven.  She speaks of a journal he kept full of quotes he collected himself for personal strength. I wasn’t able to find any of the quotes he collected, but I have found quotes on the beauty of music, along with some of Alice’s personal quotes, along with quotes from other musicians she looked to for her strength.

  “I have lived through many wars and have lost everything many times – including my husband, my mother, and my beloved son. Yet, life is beautiful, and I have so much to learn and enjoy. I have no space nor time for pessimism and hate.” (Alice)

  “Music saved my life and Music saves me still.” (Alice)

  “I have had such a beautiful life. And life is beautiful, love is beautiful, nature and music are beautiful. Everything we experience is a gift, a present we should cherish and pass on to those we love.” (Alice)

 “Only when we are so old, only then we are aware of the beauty of life.” (Alice)

  “My father always used to say the very wise words, “Put as much as you can into your heads because it’s something nobody can take away from you.” And I think that is so very very true. And I think this is where music comes in…the importance of music…because you can actually have music in your head without anybody knowing it is happening. You can actually go into another world, which is a lot nicer than the world we’re actually living in.” (Alice)

 “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” Plato

 “One should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of one’s life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

  “Music will help dissolve your perplexities and purify your character and sensibilities, and in time of care and sorrow, will keep a fountain of joy alive in you.” Dietrich Bonheoffer

 “Life is the blossoming of flowers in the spring, the ripening of fruit in the fall, the rhythm of the earth and of nature. Life is the cry of cicadas signaling the end of summer, migratory birds winging south in a transparent autumn sky, fish frolicking in a stream. Life is the joy beautiful music installs in us, the thrilling sight of a mountain peak reddened by the rising sun, the myriad combinations and permutations of visible and invisible phenomena. Life is all things.” Daisaku Ikeda

 “Then let us all do what is right, strive with all our might toward the unattainable, develop as fully as we can the gifts God has given us, and never stop learning.” Ludwig van Beethoven

Life is beautiful.  As the writing by the Delaney sisters at the ages of 103 and 107…where all they knew through life was gone, all friends, family, all gone. But they learned that as loss was constant in their lives since childhood, life was always ahead…creation, nature, God was always present.  One look up into the heavens, he is there.  One drop to our knees.  His presence.  All a promise.  By reading of others we are able to live our lives with their wisdom, their knowledge, their encouragement, their perspectives.  Seeing eternity.  Seeing our souls here for a season.

 Thank you for letting me enter your Thursday again.  Tonight we will again have the opportunity to write in stone our epitaph of the moments given to us today…will we use them in a way worthy of inscription?  Thank you for coming to our store for your books and gifts, thank you for bringing us your books.  If I’m not there when you come, know I see you were there and I thank you in my mind.  Today.  Our gift.  Regardless of personal situations, our souls are here; let us make the gift of today count.  Look into each other’s eyes.  Spend time and thoughts on what will matter in 20 years.  In 5 minutes.  In 10 years.  When it’s all over.  What will we use our time on that truly mattered?  Susan

Latin for this week:
vita est pulchra – Life is beautiful

Works Cited:
Stoessinger, Caroline. Lessons from the Life of Alice Herz-Sommer, the World’s Oldest Living Holocaust Survivor: A Century of Wisdom. New York. Random House. 2012