Who inspired you to start writing? I have written all my life, but Elie Wiese, Vaclav Havel and Howard Fast urged me to publish. They expressed confidence in my perceptions of people and events. Wherever I speak audience members ask for my books. The booksellers run out of books at signings following my talks.
What other jobs have you had? I am a concert pianist, author and public speaker. Additionally I am Artistic Director of Chamber Music at the Tilles Center, Artist-In-Residence and Professor of Music at the City University of New York John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Artistic Director of Chamber Music at the Newberry, South Carolina Opera House and President of The Mozart Academy (a pro bono music academy for children of new immigrants and children of diplomats from the Developing World). Also I produce major programs involving music for live audiences as well as for film and television. I have produced several programs about Alice Herz-Sommer Including the first ‘Tribute to the Performing Artists of Theresienstadt’. You might be interested to know that I produced the televised memorial for Leonard Bernstein, the Annual New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace hailed by the New York Times as ‘an important NY event’ and the Annual John Jay Justice Award Ceremony. Lukas Foss wrote ‘Elegy For Anne Frank’ for piano and orchestra for me. I premiered the work in New York and Oslo with Foss conducting the Brooklyn and Oslo Philharmonic Orchestras.
What was the catalyst for writing this book? My husband’s grandparents, great grandmother, other relatives and friends were deported to Theresienstadt where they perished. As I began my research about his family, I learned the Nazis had music in most of their concentration camps. I began work on a book about music of the Holocaust and interviewing musicians who survived. After meeting Alice I decided the story was best told about Terezin through her incredible eyes.
What was the most interesting thing you discovered when writing this book? Understanding the universal depth of survivors’ urge to live, to do one’s best, and to learn even under horrific circumstances.
What do you hope readers will learn from Alice’s story? Reverence for the gift of LIFE and to cherish each hour, each day without complaints.
What would you not know about, if Alice hadn’t taught you? I learned about Alice’s interpretation and practice of forgiveness. Alice was able to let go of intractable feelings in order to live a productive life. Alice did NOT hate. She said the emotion of hatred was useless and a waste of time. She often said ‘hatred only leads to more hatred’. Alice believed the forgiven must find their own redemption.
What do you think Alice would be most pleased about regarding this book? Alice would have been pleased with the way I presented her story and the inclusion of historic background of her childhood, war years and the founding of Israel as well as her friendships will major figures of the 20th century, but she would have perhaps been most happy with my attention to several of her former students and of the chapter, ‘Alice, the Teacher’, as well as our shared profound interest in the writings of Stefan Zweig.
What do you hope readers will learn from Alice’s story? I hope they will learn the importance of music in our public and private lives, to value optimism, to revere life and to never waste time complaining. TIME is our only irreplaceable asset. Alice set a phenomenal example by finding ways to use time positively even in the concentration camp. Alice found time to laugh and to make others laugh in the camp. Alice demonstrated the power of music as a survival tool in and out of the camp. She practiced piano until the day prior to her death. Alice did not want to go the hospital because she said ‘I need to practice’.
What was the most positive thing that happened because of this book? Shortly after I signed the contract for the book, my only child, Anna, was diagnosed with a virulent form of cancer. Alice told me to never shed a tear or express anxiety about her survival. Do not listen to statistics. You must believe with all your body and soul all will be well. Alice gave me the emotional strength to stand by my daughter with a smile and assure her of her recovery by working as I always did and by finishing the book on time. Alice gave me the confidence to sincerely assure my daughter she would recover. And I am thrilled to report that nearly four years later my child basks in her happy marriage and brilliant career.
What is your lasting impression of Alice? Her smile was her signature. Alice’s smile was warm, welcoming, curious and never judgmental. I felt her smile could light the universe. She was a great pianist and an authentic personality. Her musical instincts and emotional rhythm produced mesmerizing performance. Alice did not mouth platitudes; she lived an authentic loving, anti-materialistic life. As she said ‘I am one of the richest people in the world because I know music. I have lived my life in music and I will die in music’.
Read my review of ‘A Century of Wisdom’ here.