Bruce Frankel

Author of the new book "What Should I Do with the Rest of My Life? True Stories of Finding Success, Passion, and New Meaning in the Second Half of Life."

Oldest Holocaust Survivor Approaches 107 and Release Of “Dancing Under the Gallows”

October 29, 2010

Forget that you have anything else to do for the next twelve minutes. Here’s the world’s oldest Holocaust survivor, pianist Alice Herz-Sommer, nearing her 107th birthday and sharing her thoughts on love and hate as she plays the piano in her London flat.

“God is music,” Alice says, in the trailer for “Dancing Under the Gallows.”

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She was a 39-year-old concert pianist in Prague in 1943 when she, her husband and six-year-old son were arrested and sent to the Nazi concentration camp at Terezin. Even as she remembers the torment of a mother who cannot feed her child, she recalls the divinity of playing more than 100 concerts in the camp. She is certain that keeping faith with music saved her sanity and her life and the lives of hundreds of others. It also helped her keep faith with humanity.

” title=“Dancing Under the Gallows”>Alice Herz Sommer

Born November 26, 1903, Alice, a twin, studied piano with Franz Liszt pupil Conrad Ansorge. Her mother, Sophie, was friends with Gustave Mahler and Franz Kafka. Her father ran a factory that made scales, and when he would come home exhausted at night, her mother would prompt her and her brother, a violinist, to play music for their father.

Alice grew up in a rich cultural milieu. Dvorak was still alive when she was born, and her mother took her to the world premiere of Mahler’s Second Symphony and, at 16, played for the great Austrian pianist Arthur Schnabel.

She married musician Leopold Summer in 1931. Their son Rafael, was born in 1937. After the invasion of Czechoslovakia, most of her family and friends emigrated to Palestine via Romania, including Max Brod and brother-in-law Felix Weltsch, but her family stayed in Prague.

In 1942, the Nazis deported and killed her mother. She channeled her grief in the study of Chopin’s Etudes, technically some of the most difficult piano music. A year later, Alice, her husband, Leopold, and their son were sent to Terezin where she played at music concerts in the camp along with other musicians. “Sometimes it happens that I am thankful that I was there” because of the depth it gave to her appreciation of life, she says soulfully in the trailer.

When Germans come to visit and pay homage to her, she says they often hesitate before entering her room. They ask if it they may and if she doesn’t hate them. “I never hated,” she assures them.

After her family’s imprisonment, Alice’s husband was sent to Auschwitz. Though he survived that concentration camp, he died at Dachau in 1944. Following the Soviet liberation of Terezin in 1945, Alice and her son emigrated to Palestine and were reunited with her family. She lived in Israel until emigrating to London, United Kingdom with her son in 1986. Rafael died, at 64, in 2001.

She swam daily until the age of 97. At 104, Alice published the bestselling memoir A Garden of Eden in Hell. Optimism, she says, sustained her.

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Senior Housing Comes of Age, Encouraging Creativity And Even New Careers

October 25, 2010

It’s one of the more hopeful signs of changing attitudes toward aging that increasingly, senior housing facilities encourage residents like retired dental surgeon Gene Schklair, 80, at the Burbank Senior Artists Colony, to expand their lives and pursue new ambitions after retirement rather than whittle them down.

Instead of performing cosmetic surgery, Schklair now sculpts whimsical, life-size figures that sell for $18,000 each.

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The philosophy of the Colony, which targets people 55 and older, is simple, reports Rosemary McLure in the Los Angeles Times: “You’re never too old to become the person you want to be.”

The Colony, which is an outgrowth of a senior education program called Engage: The Art of Active Aging (http://www.engagedaging.org), founded by Tim Carpenter.  The nonprofit organization provides educational programs for thousands of low- and moderate-income seniors living in apartment communities throughout Southern California. (Full disclosure: Two weeks ago, I was a guest on Carpenter’s radio magazine, Experience Talks. See below.)

A sign outside the five-story building reads: “Get Active, Be Creative, Be Inspired.”

Here, there’s truth in that advertising. Each day, residents are involved in a variety of creative opportunities, from working on a play in the Colony’s 45-seat theater to participating in an intergenerational writing wokshop, a tai chi class, or a sculpture seminar.

“This building has been a godsend to so many people,” Schklair says. “People come here and they come alive.”

Charlene McDonald, 71, couldn’t agree more. She had been living alone and found herself involved in “fewer and fewer activities. Then I walked in here and I knew I was home.” She paints, writes short   stories, is working on a memoir, and “I’m writing the Great American Novel,” she says, laughing. “One day I’m going to self-publish it.”

Read the rest of McClure’s story: Burbank Senior Housing Artists Colony
Tim Carpenter’s Experience Talks airs Saturdays at 8:00 a.m. Pacific on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles 98.7 FM Santa Barbara. It streams live and is archived at http://www.kpfk.org.

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Pioneer Journalist Ruth Gruber, 99, Photographed 1947 Exodus; Honored With Norman Mailer Award

October 21, 2010

I was delighted that 99-year-old Ruth Gruber—reporter, photographer, memoirist and humanitarian—was honored with the Distinguished Humanitarian and Journalism Prize the other night at the second Annual Norman Mailer Center Benefit Gala and feted at Cipriani 42nd Street by New York’s literati.

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First, Gruber, born in Brooklyn in 1911, could not be more deserving.

A feminist before feminism, she was a remarkable reporter and photojournalist. Soon after becoming the youngest woman to earn a doctorate (for her thesis on Virginia Woolf), she became the first foreign correspondent to fly across the Siberian arctic to report on the Soviet Union in 1936 at the start of her career for The New York Herald Tribune. She went on to file reports from Alaska in 1941.

Most importantly, she escorted Holocaust refugees to America in 1944, covered the Nuremberg trials in 1946,  and documented the attack on the refugee boat Exodus by the British in 1947.

Graciously accepting her award, Gruber cited advice she had received from photographer Edward Steichen: “He said to me one day, take pictures with your heart.”

And, boy, did she ever. Her photos form aboard of the prison ship Runnymede Park were sent by the Herald Tribune around the world, and her photo of the swastika painted on the British Union Jack became Life magazine’s Picture of the Week. Her book, Exodus 1947: The Ship that Launched a Nation, provided the material for the book and movie Exodus and for numerous TV documentaries.

I was also glad she received the award now because I had missed the opportunity in September to write about Ahead Of Time, a documentary about her life by award-winning cinematographer Bob Richman (An Inconvenient Truth and My Architect) when the film was released. Here’s the trailer:

Ahead Of Time Trailer from Bob Richman & Zeva Oelbaum on Vimeo.

” title=“Ruth Gruber”>Ahead of Time

After the Norman Mailer Center gala, Vanity Fair writer Patricia Bosworth went over to congratulate Ruth, whom Bosworth has known since she was a little girl. “Ruth,”  she said, “what does it feel like to be 99 years old?” Ruth is tiny and delicate. She smiled and in a soft little voice said, “Oh, Patti, being 99 feels just like being 98.”

Here’s Bosworth’s report:

Vanity Fair on Norman Mailer Award

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Psychologist Robert Iadeluca, Doctor of Substance, Celebrates 90th

October 5, 2010

Take a look at late-blooming psychologist Robert Iadeluca’s smile and biceps as he hoists Avery, a friend’s three-year-old, at his surprise 90th birthday party last week.

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“I can honestly say, these have been the best years of my life,” he said after the party.

“Dr. Robby,” as he is widely known in Warrenton, Virginia, is a poster boy for reinvention and enduring vitality.

He is featured in chapter of “What Should I Do With The Rest of My Life?”, titled “Doctor of Substance.” (See Excerpts page.)

Laid off from his state job in his 50s, he got his Ph. D. in lifespan development from Syracuse University at 60, then went to work for ten years at the Army Research Center in Bethesda, Maryland. He retired for a couple of weeks at 70, before beginning an internship at the University of Virginia Medical School in the treatment of substance abuse and went into private practice in Warrenton.

Besides continuing to see clients six days a week, often late into the night, he rises each day before dawn to lead a discussion group on Seniornet.com on the history of civilization, walks two miles a day, pens a monthly column, serves on the board of the Hospice of the Rapidan, recently took up bridge, and dances whenever possible. 

His motto is printed on his license plate: All-Okay.

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