Professor Caroline Stoessinger Wins Mailer Book Prize for Story of Centenarian Holocaust Survivor

Caroline Stoessinger, an adjunct professor of music and artist-in-residence at John Jay, recently won the 2012 Norman Mailer Center Commendation for Preserving the History of Our Time, for her new book A Century of Wisdom: Lessons From the Life of Alice Herz-Sommer, the World’s Oldest Living Holocaust Survivor (Random House, 2012).

The book chronicles the life of Herz-Sommer, a courageous 108-year-old Czech woman who in1943 was deported along with her husband and their 6-year-old son from their home in Prague to the Nazi concentration camp in Terezin. She was already an acclaimed pianist, and remains one to this day, still practicing three hours a day.

Herz-Sommer’s husband died at the Dachau concentration camp six weeks before the end of the war in 1945. After the war, she immigrated to Israel, where she befriended Golda Meir and many other leading Israeli figures. Her son, a noted cellist, died while on a concert tour in 2001 at age 65. “Yet despite all she has seen and suffered,” said Stoessinger, “Alice is victorious in that she has forged a life without bitterness. She is a happy soul.”

The Mailer Award was presented on April 30 at the National Arts Club in New York, in a ceremony that featured a reading from the book by Academy Award-winning actress Ellen Burstyn, a performance by the Amphion String Quartet with Stoessinger accompanying on piano, and the award presentation itself by renowned violinist Itzhak Perlman.

A Century of Wisdom, which includes a foreword by the late Vaclav Havel, the former president of the Czech Republic, has been widely acclaimed by the likes of Gloria Steinem, Elie Wiesel, Pat Conroy and John Jay Distinguished Professor Blanche Wiesen Cook, who called the book “an extraordinary, enchanting, entirely inspiring book—most timely and needed now.”

About John Jay College of Criminal Justice: An international leader in educating for justice, John Jay College of Criminal Justice of The City University of New York offers a rich liberal arts and professional studies curriculum to upwards of 15,000 undergraduate and graduate students from more than 135 nations. In teaching, scholarship and research, the College approaches justice as an applied art and science in service to society and as an ongoing conversation about fundamental human desires for fairness, equality and the rule of law. For more information, visit


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