Ask anyone about the Jewish Enlightenment, or Haskalah, and the first person they’ll likely mention is Moses Mendelssohn (1729-1786). Few would disagree that Mendelssohn played a key role in the Haskalah’s earliest stages, attempting as he did to modernize Judaism in 18th century Germany and bring it in line with the broader intellectual trend of his time—that is, the Enlightenment, or what historians often call the Age of Reason.
Centenarian Alice Herz-Sommer, the subject of two books, credits music with sustaining her at Terezin; other new Holocaust books also highlight women’s experiences.
Jewish Week Book Critic
At 108, Alice Herz-Sommer is believed to be the oldest living Holocaust survivor. Born in Prague, she watched her mother being deported to Terezin in 1942, and never saw her again. A year later, she was also deported there with her husband and son. By then, Herz-Sommer was an acclaimed pianist, and continued to play in the concentration camp, giving more than a hundred concerts to fellow prisoners and to the Nazis. Her husband was killed in the camp just before liberation.
In our secular, liberal age, the Bible and the classics often get a bad rap. The Bible represents everything modernity is not—free inquiry, divested of hoary beliefs—while the classics are often snidely dismissed as the hubristic fantasies of aging, if not already dead white males.