Alice's Piano: The Life of Alice Herz-Sommer

Overview

How music provided hope in one of the world's darkest times—the inspirational life story of Alice Herz-Sommer, the oldest living Holocaust survivor

 

Alice Herz-Sommer was born in Prague in 1903. A talented pianist from a very early age, she became famous throughout Europe; but, as the Nazis rose to power, her world crumbled. In 1942, her mother was deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp and ...

See more details below
Hardcover
$20.08
BN.com price
(Save 25%)$26.99 List Price

Pick Up In Store

Reserve and pick up in 60 minutes at your local store

Other sellers (Hardcover)
  • All (9) from $14.43   
  • New (7) from $14.89   
  • Used (2) from $14.43   
Alice's Piano: The Life of Alice Herz-Sommer

Available on NOOK devices and apps  
  • NOOK Devices
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK
  • NOOK HD/HD+ Tablet
  • NOOK
  • NOOK Color
  • NOOK Tablet
  • Tablet/Phone
  • NOOK for Windows 8 Tablet
  • NOOK for iOS
  • NOOK for Android
  • NOOK Kids for iPad
  • PC/Mac
  • NOOK for Windows 8
  • NOOK for PC
  • NOOK for Mac
  • NOOK for Web

Want a NOOK? Explore Now

NOOK Book (eBook)
$12.99
BN.com price

Overview

How music provided hope in one of the world's darkest times—the inspirational life story of Alice Herz-Sommer, the oldest living Holocaust survivor

 

Alice Herz-Sommer was born in Prague in 1903. A talented pianist from a very early age, she became famous throughout Europe; but, as the Nazis rose to power, her world crumbled. In 1942, her mother was deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp and vanished. In 1943, Alice, her husband and their six-year-old son were sent there, too. In the midst of horror, music, especially Chopin's Etudes, was Alice's salvation. Theresienstadt was a "show camp", a living slice of Nazi propaganda created to convince outsiders that the Jews were being treated humanely. In more than a hundred concerts, Alice gave her fellow prisoners hope in a time of suffering. Written with the cooperation of Alice Herz-Sommer, Melissa Müller and Reinhard Piechocki's Alice's Piano is the first time her story has been told. At 107 years old, she continues to play her piano in London and bring hope to many. 

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Most moving is the story throughout of her loving bond with her son and how she saved him. No politics, intolerance, or self-righteousness, no talk of revenge, always the rigor and joy of music.”—Booklist (Starred Review)

“A miraculous journey of mother and son for whom music provided strength and nourishment.”—Kirkus Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
The harrowing tale of a Czech concert pianist's survival at the Theresienstadt concentration camp. At 108 years old in 2011, Alice Herz-Sommer is the world's oldest living Holocaust survivor, residing in Jerusalem since the Communist regime forced her from her Prague home in 1949. In this novelistic reconstruction of her life by her friend Piechocki and journalist Müller (Anne Frank: The Biography, 1998, etc.), Herz-Sommer is portrayed as the stronger-willed of twin girls born to a mismatched German-speaking Jewish couple in Prague in 1903. From a young age she was determined to master the piano. Her older sister included her twin sisters in visits with other German-speaking Jewish friends who formed the intellectual literary Prague Circle--e.g., Max Brod, Oskar Baum and Franz Kafka. A student at the German Academy of Music after World War I, Herz became a notable concert pianist and teacher, married businessman Leopold Sommer and had a son, Stephan, by the time the Nazis marched into Prague in 1939. While many of her family emigrated to Palestine, the Sommers remained in Prague, only to see their lives drained bit by bit. First, Herz's elderly mother was deported to Theresienstadt, after which she taught herself the Chopin Etudes out of despair; then the Sommers were deported as well in 1943. At the camp, Alice became a sought-after pianist for the many musical productions organized by the Free Time Organization, while Stephan was enlisted in children's choruses. Herz would often play the Chopin Etudes in concerts for the inmates, while Stephan acted in the SS propaganda film made to show the world what a "ghetto paradise" the camp was. Meanwhile, transports continued, Leopold was deported to Auschwitz and Theresienstadt was rumored to be evacuated. However, Alice was allowed to stay, giving her last concert at the camp in 1945. A miraculous journey of mother and son for whom music provided strength and nourishment.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781250007414
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 3/13/2012
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 212,504
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

MELISSA MÜLLER is an author and journalist living in Munich. Her collaboration with Traudl Junge became an international bestseller. She is also the author of Anne Frank: The Biography.

REINHARD PIECHOCKI is the author of a number of works of cultural history and a close friend of Alice Herz-Sommer’s for many years.

ALICE HERZ-SOMMER, at 107 years old, is the oldest living Holocaust survivor. She lives in London.

Read More Show Less

Read an Excerpt

Alice's Piano

The Life of Alice Herz-Sommer
By Melissa Müller

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2012 Melissa Müller
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9781250007414

ONE

Twins

“One happy, one sad…”

 
FRANTA CAME out of his employer’s office with a delivery note in his hand. A consignment of pharmaceutical scales had to be taken to the station that afternoon and put on a train for Vienna. On the way to the stables the servant paused to listen to the music coming from the drawing room of the flat in the courtyard. As she so often did after lunch, the heavily pregnant Sofie Herz was playing the piano.
Franta sat on a bench in the courtyard and looked up to the windows above. For nearly thirty years he had been employed by Herz Brothers. How many thousand times had he loaded the carriage since then, how often had he harnessed the horses and taken the consignment over the Moldau to the station? It was a part of his routine on that gray Prague morning in November 1903, like any other.
Sofie Herz was a precise interpreter of Bach. The little preludes and two-part inventions were among her favorites. In the last weeks of her confinement, however, she had often played Chopin, his poetic nocturnes and above all his sad waltzes. The melancholy melody reminded Franta of his master’s marriage in 1886. The factory director Friedrich Herz was thirty-four then, almost twice the age of his bride, Sofie.
For nights on end Sofie cried herself to sleep. Barred from marrying the man to whom she had given her heart, she dreaded her wedding day. She had fallen in love with a student her own age, who shared her love of music and literature. Finally Sofie bowed to her parents’ will. Ignatz and Fanny Schulz were prominent merchants in Iglau and now a good match needed to be found for her. According to the Ashkenazi tradition a schadchen or marriage broker had to be entrusted with the business of finding the right man. Means and possessions, social class and position, knowledge and wisdom were the basis of a reasonable marriage among schejnen leit (the right sort of people), the wealthy. It was also assumed that love would blossom soon after the wedding. Consoling her daughter, Fanny told her, “Look at those miserable people who apparently wed for love; they are fickle and their marriages frequently end up in divorce. That is the proof.”
The broker found his man 150 kilometers away from Iglau. Friedrich Herz lived in Prague, he was a well-built, good-looking man who understood responsibility. He was decent, warm-hearted, and had accumulated a modest wealth through his own industry. He was one of the most important producers of precision scales in the Habsburg Empire, from devices for goldsmiths and pharmacists to industrial scales to carry heavy weights. The only thing that the “director”—as those around him respectfully addressed him—lacked now to complete his happiness was a family. He was pleased with Sofie Schulz.
Sofie’s contrariness was clear from the start—together with her indifference to the Jewish tradition in which she had grown up. At their wedding Sofie would not listen to the badchen, the entertainer that the bridegroom and wedding guests praised and laughed with until everyone was crying their eyes out, or the Kletzmermusik. She was deaf to the proceedings and let them pass her by, as Franta now recalled. She maintained a proud and upright posture as she was solemnly enthroned in her second chair and covered with a veil. Her delicate fingers clutched the bridal stool while a cousin declaimed the rights and duties of a married woman. She looked lovely in her white lace, coldly lovely.
All eyes were on Sofie as she was led forward by her retinue under her chupe—a canopy of shining gold brocade—and handed over to her future husband, the first blessing of the rabbi and the first sip of wine: “With this ring you are sanctified by the religion of Moses and Israel,” Friedrich said as he placed the ring on her hand. She scarcely looked at her husband. Even the next seven blessings left her unaffected. The wedding guests waited in vain for the tears which would give some indication of Sofie’s emotions—all part and parcel of ancient tradition.
Another sip of wine, then the groom crushed the glass chalice underfoot to cries of “matzeltow” from the guests. Splinters bring you luck, supposedly, even when the custom recalls the expulsion of the Jews and should symbolize the smashing of their joy through banishment. Sofie looked at the smashed goblet and could only see her happiness destroyed by the man to whom she was now wed.
Franta was stirred by Sofie’s playing and respected her. She was a no-nonsense woman who spoke her mind. Sofie always had a kind word for him, perhaps because he was kind to her children, perhaps because he was the only one who recognized that behind her apparently tough facade, she knew what true beauty was. There might even have been a tacit understanding between the two of them that Franta could relax for a few minutes after his midday break and sit down on the bench in the courtyard to listen to Sofie’s playing before getting back to his job.
All of a sudden there was a smell of burning. “Fire! Fire!” shouted Franta.
Franta’s cry shattered Sofie’s concentration. She was expecting her fourth child any day. She lurched toward the window from the piano. Flames were shooting out of one of the factory buildings. Workers were rushing in all directions and gathering before the burning workshop. No one dared go in.
Friedrich Herz got up from his short siesta on the sofa when he heard cries for help. His days were as regular as clockwork. He worked from six o’clock in the morning to six o’clock at night, six days a week. At midday he interrupted his work for exactly one hour, and walked up the few steps from his office on the ground floor to his flat on the first floor where the table was laid and his family were already sitting round it waiting for him. He had remained a modest, unpretentious man, despite his rise from a meager apprentice ironmonger to a successful businessman with several dozen employees.
Little was known about his origins. His father came from the small Bohemian village of Rischkau about fifty kilometers north of Prague and was a member of its Orthodox Jewish community. Thanks to the “new liberality” permitted to the Jews after 1848, he and his family left the ghetto for the outskirts of Prague in the hope of finding work to feed his wife and seven children. He found apprenticeships for two of his sons—Friedrich and Karl—in an ironmonger’s shop. Friedrich was just twelve.
Friedrich’s success would have been unimaginable had it not been for the reforms of Emperor Joseph II. Joseph’s mother, the Empress Maria Theresa, had made the Jews the scapegoat for Austria’s poor performance in the war against Prussia and decreed that “from this moment onward no more Jews will be tolerated in the kingdom of Bohemia.”
Joseph II introduced the century of Jewish emancipation. Influenced by the European Enlightenment he issued his so-called Patent of Tolerance in 1781, first in Bohemia, and Prague in particular: the city where it is said there were more Torah rolls than in Jerusalem itself. It stipulated that “rich Jews” could lease land without interference from the guilds and they could turn their hand to trade and industry. Schools were to be established where Jews would be taught in German, for the emperor wanted to “Germanize” the elite in order to bind them politically, administratively and economically as tightly as possible to Vienna. The new Jewish upper class played a decisive part in the economic development that raised Prague from a small, provincial city to a tri-racial metropolis. By 1825, out of 550 merchants and traders 240 were of Jewish origin. Thirteen out of a total of fifty factories were in Jewish hands.
When the Jews received equal rights in 1867 their prospects once more decisively improved. Friedrich Herz had just turned fifteen and he exploited the new possibilities to the full. In the 1870s, together with his brother Karl and with the help of a private loan he created the firm Gebrüder Herz and built it up to become one of the biggest of its sort in the Empire. Karl died young, before Friedrich’s marriage.
“Fire!”
Friedrich stumbled down the stairs. Without a moment’s hesitation, he ran into the burning workshop, turned off the gas pipe, and thereby prevented the flames from consuming his life’s work.
*   *   *
A WEEK later, on 26 November 1903, Sofie went into labor. Friedrich placed great hopes on the birth of his fourth child.
Georg, the eldest son, was already fifteen and causing him concern. The child had been born with a club foot. At the beginning, Sofie had kept his disability a secret. Was it not a punishment for her frigid behavior toward her husband? Had she not threatened to throw herself out of the window shortly before the birth?
Irma was born three years later, but there was no question of a girl taking over the running of the business. The third child, Paul, was nine years younger than Irma, and his father’s favorite, but his impetuous character and his tendency to daydream led Friedrich Herz to doubt that he would ever be capable of taking over the company. Friedrich hoped that the fourth child would be a boy.
That afternoon, to the annoyance of the midwife, Friedrich Herz stuck his head through the double doors to Sofie’s bedroom again and again. It had been dark for some time, and Friedrich was pacing up and down uneasily in the flat. Finally the news of a successful birth was announced in the early evening.
“A boy?” cried Friedrich Herz, in an entreating tone.
He slumped when he heard the answer: “No, not a boy!”
With disappointment he said: “A girl…”
The midwife again said: “No.”
Not a boy and not a girl? Before he could come to his senses the midwife’s voice hit him like a slap in the face: “Two girls!”
*   *   *
ALICE HERZ was born into Habsburg Austria a few minutes before her twin sister Marianne on 26 November 1903. As Marianne weighed only 1.9 kilos it was feared that she would not live long. Alice was 2.5 kilos, appreciably heavier. She looked altogether healthier and more robust, although later on she would grow much more slowly than her sister. Her mother was full of love for the weaker child and called her Mizzerl or Mizzi, and naturally gave her more attention and care. In spite of this, Mizzi remained all her life the anxious one; a pessimist who in her life always saw the dark side of things first. Alice, on the other hand, developed into a courageous person who was sure of herself. Very soon her mother would be heard to say “We don’t need to worry about Alice; she will go her own way.”
Although the girls not only thought differently and looked different, Sofie dressed them both in the same clothes. Their bright red bonnets could be seen from far off: the Herz twins are coming! Beside her twin sister Alice was less striking. Alice said that Marianne was as pretty as a picture: she had tender white skin, expressive dark eyes, a sweet little mouth and fabulous pretty black hair. Her mother often picked up her favorite child and hugged and kissed her, while Alice, who was more capable of dealing with life, looked on with her winning smile.
Alice heard few words of praise from her mother. Sofie reproached her children when they failed to do their schoolwork neatly or did something silly, but she found it hard to utter a phrase of encouragement. Alice became a remarkable creature of habit for one so young. Night after night with great pride and astonishing meticulousness she polished the family shoes: eight pairs in all—the parents, her brothers and sisters and even those of the Czech maid, Marie. And as if the five-year-old had not made enough of an effort, every morning she got up shortly after six and crept out to run a few doors down to the baker to pick up the family’s order for bread and rolls. This was actually the maid’s job, whose duties began at first light when she raked the oven and got the hot water ready for the family’s morning wash. Alice, however, refused to give up her role as bread-runner. Her father praised her, but her mother continued to lavish all her attention on Mizzi, despite the fact that she never lifted a finger in the house.
Mizzi enchanted even the strangest of people. Or so it appeared to Alice—who was generally standing unnoticed next to her at the time. Aged six, the twins were out walking with their older sister Irma on Letna Hill in the Belvedere Garden, part of the nearby Crown Prince Rudolf Park, when an old friend of the family came up. Alice already had an idea what was going to happen. Enraptured with little Marianne the woman cried out: “My God, this child is lovely!” This time, however, Alice was ready to quip: “But I am cleverer!”
Soon Alice found a new way to win her mother’s love. Every two weeks Sofie and her daughters were busy for four whole days doing the family laundry. The air in the large kitchen would be filled with steam and the smell of soapy water. Little Alice literally fell over herself to show her mother what an industrious washerwoman she was. She sorted out the bed linen and the articles of clothing; dark clothes had to be separated from light ones; silk from cotton. She helped to brush the clothes as they soaked and to rinse them. And she went up to the roof with Marie, where the clean clothes were hung out to dry. Alice could not be discouraged from pinning a few articles of clothing to the washing line. To do this she stood on her tiptoes on a wooden stool—risking life and limb in the process.
As there was no tap in the kitchen, bucket upon bucket of water had to be brought in from the hall. One day Alice’s grandmother Fanny was coming down the stairs from her flat on the second floor when she ran into the little girl. Alice’s face was bright red from the exertion of dragging a bucket filled to the brim with water across the hall to the kitchen. Fanny was a quiet, reserved woman who preferred to avoid conflict. This time, however, she lost her temper and gave her daughter a talking to: “Have you not noticed that you are turning your child into Cinderella? Can you not see that every child needs the same amount of attention and love?”
“You are a fine one to talk,” her daughter exploded, “you who arranged my marriage, you speak of love?!”
Alice could not see what the bucket had to do with love, but uncertain as to whether she had been responsible for the fight between her mother and grandmother, she began quietly to sob. A word that she had never heard before seemed to play a role in the battle: mischpoche. In the war of words between the two women a few words of Yiddish had surfaced, possibly because they had become overexcited, perhaps to spare the children. The foreign-sounding words, the outraged tone and her feelings of guilt puzzled Alice.
Finally Sofie turned to her weeping child and gave her an affectionate cuddle:
“Alice, it is not your fault that we are having a row. I love you as much as I love Mizzi; only you are strong, I am proud of you. You will make your own way in life. Mizzi is weaker, and she is going to have a tougher job of it than you.” And she stroked Alice’s hair.
Her grandmother’s final words kept going through her head: “You don’t have to love your mother,” she had told her daughter, “but you owe her derech-erez. Derech-erez.” Then her grandmother left and went off in the direction of the Belvedere Gardens and sat down on her favorite bench. She was usually to be found there, come rain or shine, when she was not at home.
In an agitated frame of mind, Alice told her sister what had happened. “Do you know what derech-erez means?”
Mizzi shook her head.
“And what does mischpoche mean?”
She shook her head again.
So the two girls decided to ask their grandmother and ran off to find her. The park was only a few hundred meters from home but the twins were completely out of breath by the time they reached the bench.
“Grandmother,” Alice panted, “tell us what mischpoche means?”
Her grandmother smiled: “Mischpoche means family and that is all of us together who belong to the family. Our family is daddy, mummy, grandmother, grandfather and the children.”
“And derech-erez?”
“That means respect.”
“Respect?” Their grandmother saw the question in Alice and Marianne’s eyes.
“Respecting your parents means honoring them, acknowledging them.” After a pause Fanny added, “Those are Yiddish words. Yiddish is my mother tongue and your mother’s mother tongue. Yiddish is the mother tongue of most Jews in our country.”
“Jews?” asked Alice.
Then, for the first time Fanny Schulz told her grandchildren of the Jewish people and the diaspora. The girls listened to her spellbound, as if it were a fairy tale.
Although the family celebrated Passover every year, their mother had never so much as alluded to the Jews, let alone allowed a Yiddish word to pass her lips. When Alice later used the word meschugge which she had picked up from other children, her mother gave her a firm dressing down: “Don’t use it again.” Sofie tried stubbornly to prevent anything that recalled her Jewish origins from reaching the children. For her, Judaism was a belief she had rejected. She felt she had good reasons. One was the Ashkenazi tradition which had been her misfortune and which had caused her unhappy marriage. Another was her conviction that the worrying and frequent outbreaks of anti-Semitism in the multiracial Habsburg Empire were chiefly directed against Orthodox Jews, taking their cue from perceived Jewish traditions. Even in the early twentieth century it was widely believed in Bohemia and Moravia that the Jews “needed Christian blood at Eastertide, and therefore slaughtered little children and virgins.”
In the last years of the nineteenth century, a considerable number of Prague Jews, above all from the working class, had begun to align themselves with the Czech majority and plumped for the Czech language before the German in their choice of schools and universities. According to figures published in 1900, 14,576 Jews described themselves as Czech-speaking, as opposed to 11,599 German-speakers.1
Sofie, however, identified with liberal-thinking Germany—like most educated Prague Jews. To be assimilated into the German-speaking cultural circle of the city was for her—much more than for her husband—not just a measure of security, it satisfied a deep, inner need. Her access to higher education had been blocked, but she saw herself as part of a world steeped in culture. She instilled in her children a respect for German high culture, a culture that was open to the world. They were to become artistically minded, cosmopolitan Germans, without bearing the stigma of Judaism. It was therefore from their grandmother that Alice and Mizzi first learned that there were not just Germans and Czechs in Prague, but that there was a third group of people: Jews. Only a few months later they would become painfully aware of what it meant to be a Jew.
*   *   *
IN THE part of the city where Friedrich Herz had settled generally nobody would have asked about origin or religion. The former villages of Bubna—where the Herz factory was to be found—and Holešovice were only incorporated into the former walled city as its seventh district. Bubna on the left bank of the Moldau was rapidly industrialized, but even twenty years later it still felt like a small village.
Alice and Marianne played with many Czech, German or Jewish children in the Belvedere Gardens or in the streets and courtyards closest to their home. They played with their skipping ropes or catch, hide-and-seek and hopscotch. The other children's backgrounds made not a jot of difference to them.
The twin girls grew up bilingual. In the family they naturally spoke German but with many of their friends and with their father’s workers they spoke Czech. The nationality problem, however, had become increasingly acute in the Bohemian city. The majority of people were Czech. The German minority accounted for just ten percent of the population, and was mostly made up of civil servants and the garrison, as well as a part of the old Bohemian nobility, scientists and intellectuals and some German Bohemians from the Sudetenland. From a political point of view, the Jews reinforced the Germans and were considered anathema to the Czechs for that reason. More and more German-speakers from Prague were tending toward nationalism and anti-Semitism and spurned the Jews. The children had yet to see evidence of this. Not yet, but adolescent Germans and Czechs were already trading cobbles and vile insults.
One day the twins were playing with two friends when suddenly a group of young Czechs from the area appeared in the park and as quick as a flash surrounded the girls. The lads had evidently learned that the industrialist Friedrich Herz was a Jew and began to sing a mocking song “Smaradlawe židy—smaradlawe židy,” they kept chanting: “you stink like Jews,” while at the same time they pushed “their prisoners” around until they fell over and began to cry. The Czechs retired in triumph and the humiliated children ran home with grazed knees. When they got in Alice and Marianne ran to their mother: “Mother, why did they hurt us? Are we different?”
The otherwise so brave and quick-witted Sofie was lost for words.
*   *   *
THE GIRLS’ home was at 23 Belsky Street. The main street in the Seventh District was named after the Mayor of Prague Václav Belsky. For the children the building was filled with secrets and surprises. It took years for them to discover every nook and cranny. Friedrich Herz had acquired the estate at the bottom of hilly Belvedere Gardens shortly before his marriage and had it constructed like an urban version of a courtyard farm. It consisted of four large buildings. Toward the street there was a two-story dwelling, a roomy, but from the outside by no means majestic building with an unprepossessing, plain facade which failed to conform to the historical or neoclassical schools of architecture current in central Prague at the time. Next to the porter’s flat on the ground floor there were the director’s and secretary’s offices. Up a few steps on the mezzanine, you reached the family’s eight-room flat, together with a smaller one which was rented out. Three of the four units on the floor above were rented out. In the fourth lived Grandmother Fanny and her maid. With the rent from the flats Friedrich paid off the mortgage on the house.
The flats were flanked by two forty-meter-long workshops. In the right-hand building the precision scales were made: letter-scales, pharmaceutical scales, scales for use in grocer’s shops; in the left-hand building they put together scales for heavy industry.
The stable at the far end of the courtyard, opposite the flats, completed the quadrangle. It exercised a great pull on the children. They were particularly keen to watch Franta when he was looking after the horses. One day the servant pressed a carrot into the hands of both girls. The sturdy dray horses whinnied loudly and stretched their necks out anxiously toward the children. Mizzi was too frightened to feed the horses and hid behind a pillar. Alice on the other hand, pushed her carrot toward the mare Bianka. It was love at first sight. From that moment onward she visited her favorite horse daily, and Bianka always thanked her with a joyful neigh.
Franta was particularly fond of Alice’s brother Paul and let him mount the horses and ride around the courtyard. No matter how broad in the beam and powerful the horses looked, they were placid and good-hearted.
One evening Franta told the girls: “The moment has come: today you can both have a ride!”
“Hurrah,” came Alice’s spontaneous reaction, “Can I ride Bianka?”
For her part Mizzi wasn’t having anything to do with the horses and when Franta tried to talk her round she fled to the furthest recesses of the stables and disappeared behind some bales of straw.
Alice allowed Franta to lift her on to the horse. She looked tiny on its broad back and while she held on tightly to Bianka’s mane, she was happy and laughed her infectious Alice-laugh.
Sofie did not get any closer to her husband over the years. She found it hard to respect him despite the fact he was a reliable, devoted and uncommonly hard-working man whose neighbors admired his friendly character and whose employees were unstintingly loyal and long-serving. He was not as well-educated as Sofie was, he never picked up a book and only rarely could he be talked into attending the performance of an opera. Sofie did not like putting up with his antiquated thinking and his deep-rooted thrift. Although he was ready to invest money in the education of his two sons, he showed little understanding of the fact that his three daughters needed to be helped too.
Sofie was also particularly unwilling to receive Friedrich’s family. One of his sisters visited regularly and every time Sofie’s hackles rose over the comments that came bubbling out of her mouth. When she inquired whether her brother was getting enough to eat, Sofie showed her the door.
When Friedrich Herz left the factory after his long working day, he was thinking of having a good supper, of a little chat with his family, of rounding off the day peacefully and going to bed around eight. While the midday meal was a rush, he could take his time over his dinner. He would therefore often go to the delicatessen across the road after work for some air-dried sausage or some Swiss Emmental or other, more mundane, provisions. Shortly before six every evening the children had to take their seats at the dining table with clean hands and combed hair and wait for their father. Precisely at that point, however, when her husband was hoping to relax, Sofie, as Friedrich realized, was hatching a reason to prevent this.
One day, in the summer of 1910 or thereabouts, Friedrich was supposed to bring home two jars of spicy gherkins for the evening meal. Since the advent of the deafeningly noisy tram had made the crossing of the road perilous, he took his life into his hands each time he went to the shop. On this occasion, he did not run into a tram, but a three-wheeled vehicle bearing the word “taxi.” Although Friedrich Herz had already read a newspaper article announcing the arrival of motorized vehicles in Prague, it was the first time in his life that he had seen a rattling, stinking automobile roaring toward him. He was lost for words: thirty kilometers an hour seemed madly fast to him.
The taxi had disappeared from view leaving Friedrich standing aghast in front of the delicatessen. How much faster the smaller deliveries could be brought to the station with one of those wonderful machines! Enraptured by his brush with the taxi, and quite contrary to his usual frugal habits, he bought a bottle of expensive cognac for himself and a juicy ham for the family. He was almost leaving the shop when he noticed the jars of gherkins, which were the principal reason why he had gone there in the first place. He turned on his heels and returned to the counter.
When he entered the dining room it was twelve minutes past six. The five children were sitting as quiet as mice around the table, and Sofie looked her husband up and down. Friedrich took no notice of the menace in her voice. He placed the two jars on the table and put down the ham next to them while he announced: “Children, imagine: your father has just seen his first ever taxi!”
“That is no reason to keep us waiting,” said Sofie sharply.
Friedrich ignored the accusation and carried on speaking cheerfully, “In celebration of this day everyone may eat as much ham as they like.”
“Friedrich! Yet again, these are not the right gherkins.”
“There are no wrong gherkins,” her husband growled.
“I like the wrong gherkins, I should like to eat three wrong gherkins,” prattled Mizzi.
Alice, too, took her father’s side: “I think the wrong gherkins look very pretty.”
In the meantime Georg and Paul had carved the ham and were praising it to the skies. “This cooked ham is fit for a king,” said Georg, who was now twenty-one. “And the wrong gherkins are also a knockout,” Paul chipped in.
But Sofie would not let matters rest there. “Is it really too much to ask you to bring home the right gherkins?”
She had finally begun to rile Friedrich and he raised his voice: “After a long working day can I not eat my dinner in peace?” But it was not Sofie’s way to let someone else have the last word. “Besides, you pinch every penny, as if we were poor people, but when I plead with you to pay for a special orthopedic treatment for Alice so that she might begin to grow properly, you refuse to give me the money.” Friedrich refused to let it ruin his composure: “Indeed, I said that I didn’t think it a bad thing that Alice remain small. And I will abide by that.” And to cap it all he argued that there had to be small women too, so that little men would have a chance to find wives.
Now Paul joined in the argument: “Why does Alice have to marry a little man? What happens when a bigger man comes along?” And Mizzi topped this with some childish wisdom: “Little women with big men can have just as many children as big women with little men!” Their mother was not in a joking mood: “Paul and Mizzi—off to bed!”
Friedrich left the dining room without another word.
“Why don’t you just take him in your arms and give him a kiss? That would make everything right,” said Alice, at least managing to get her mother to smile again.
However, as she grew older Sofie became more taciturn and increasingly kept her distance from her husband. There was certainly no question of divorce. With time Friedrich found a means to make the icy atmosphere bearable, but the family have drawn a veil over this, for decency’s sake. When his youngest children—Paul, Alice and Marianne—were old enough to enjoy excursions to the country, their father ordered a coach early every Sunday morning and together they drove to a funfair. The children loved these trips more than anything. Paul and Alice were allowed to sit next to the coachman and occasionally to take the reins. Mizzi sat in the carriage with her father. While the children roamed around the fair, Friedrich would order a beer and a brace of bratwurst. Although the waitress was much younger than Friedrich she was attracted to the good-looking and friendly fifty-five-year-old. He was quite an imposing figure and he looked exceptionally dandy in his Sunday coat.
The children did not bother much about the warm-hearted way their father greeted the waitress or the fact that she came over to chat with him whenever she had a free moment, or that once he gave her a particularly generous tip or that on greeting or parting their hands were in contact for decidedly too long. They did, however, notice that every Sunday evening after dinner their father went out again, but they never asked where he was going. Sofie, on the other hand, knew soon enough where her husband was heading, but instead of getting angry, she was relieved.

 
Copyright © Droemer 2006.
Translation copyright © Pan Macmillan 2007.


Continues...

Excerpted from Alice's Piano by Melissa Müller Copyright © 2012 by Melissa Müller. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(0)

4 Star

(0)

3 Star

(0)

2 Star

(0)

1 Star

(0)

Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation

Reminder:

  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

 
Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)