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All But My Life ******               Gerda Weissmann Klein All But My Life, written by Gerda Weissmann Klein, is a gripping and inspiring account of how a teenage girl managed to survive the Holocaust. A native of the Polish Bielitz, she is merely 15 years old when the Nazis invade the country of her childhood. Soon thereafter things begin to change for the worse with each passing day, the Jewish population becomes subjected to restrictions so harsh they threaten their very survival. Her only brother Arthur is seized and shipped to a Concentration Camp. The family is deprived of food, coal, reduced to living in the basement of their own house. Inevitably even this dreary state of events does not last long and is soon followed by the next step: the ghetto.  Along with the rest of the Jewish community they are forced to reside there until Gerda and her parents undergo the final separation, never to see each other again. Because the author herself was not able to win any clarity in this particular matter we never find out what exactly happened to her parents or her brother, except that they perished along with millions of other Jews. Gerda, however, is chosen to work in a Labor Camp and thus commences her long ordeal of hardship and heartache. In the years, during which she leads the existence as a slave to the Third Reich, she is relocated several times. Her “places of residence” include Bolkenhaim, Märzdorf, Landeshut und Grünberg. Some of them prove to be bearable; others drive her to the brink of human endurance and almost cost the young girl her life. However, compared to the prisoners transported to Death Camps such as Auschwitz she can still call herself extremely lucky, because the conditions of her incarceration turn out to be a lot milder, ultimately contributing to her being able to stay alive. As the day of liberation approaches, the girls from the Labor Camp are sent on a brutal, ruthless death march. Its only purpose: kill as many of them along the way as possible. Out of the 2000 young women, who set out on this journey, only 120 live long enough to experience freedom. All three of Gerda’s best friends die of starvation and exhaustion. She herself weights 68 pounds and needs a long time to recuperate. She almost loses both of her feet to amputation, but with incredible courage fights for her health and happiness. An American officer, one of the group to first arrive to their rescue, gradually becomes more than just her savior and helps her discover laughter and love again. Eventually they get married. She emigrates to the United States, where she leads a joyful, fulfilled life, blessed with a wonderful family and professional recognition. But the memories of what she has experienced never quite go away and continue to haunt her, raw and painful, immune to the healing powers of time. So far this novel might seem like just one of the numerous Holocaust Memoirs, certainly moving, but nonetheless something we have all read before. So what makes it so special? Well, let me start with the fact that Ms. Klein went on to become a professional writer and in every beautifully crafted page you can recognize the amazing talent and style worthy of a master of prose, a virtuoso able to convey a mood with just a few poignant words. This account is kept more in the form of a direct report of the transpired events, it truly feels like these were the thoughts and emotions of a teenager, expressed in an easy to read, free-flowing manner. Gerda’s musings are artfully formulated, her descriptions vary from lyrical to dramatic, but what creates the biggest impact is the sheer force of her emotions. She paints pictures full of melancholy, longing for the past and ever-lasting sorrow that go deep under your skin. Certain passages literally brought tears to my eyes, their tragic tone made my heart squeeze with empathy, sadness and anguish. If you are in need of a powerful Catharsis, this would certainly be the tool to use… Ms. Klein definitely understands how to hold the interest of the reader with a mixture of a suspenseful story and deep insights into the human psyche. This novel offers a true literary feast to recipients with different desires, as it contains elements of an adventure and survival story, romance, poetic descriptions of nature or associations to old fairy-tales and legends. Despite this depth of expression and suffering Gerda never tries to paint herself off as the ever-noble and patient heroine, stoically enduring all pain with humility and grace. Throughout the whole story she remains fiercely real, avoiding the temptation to show herself in a more flattering light at the price of foregoing authenticity. She actually feels a great deal of resentment regarding her situation towards other, more fortunate people and often feels sorry for herself. She despairs over being cheated out of life, deprived of the things that any normal teenager could do. Sometimes she even appears somewhat vain and shallow, like a petulant and stubborn child. She does not always consider the feelings of those around her, occasionally demonstrates selfishness and little regard of how her actions hurt others. She’s not afraid to expose her angry, egoistic side and ugly qualities: she embraces them as part of who she is. And that very honestly makes this story strike such a genuine chord, as it is a tale of a real person with authentic feelings born under extreme circumstances. In her memoir Ms. Klein also poses the much discussed and controversial question: why did the Jewish people put up almost no resistance and allowed the Nazis to systematically exterminate them with such ease? Why did they follow all the directives and accommodated their oppressors in all their atrocious whims? In the end they were going to die anyway, so wouldn’t it be better to at least go down fighting? I think the conclusion the reader draws after reading this work is that people never fully believed that such bestiality could really take place, not until the very last moment, not until it was happening to them. The faith and hope in the moral norms of civilization, so misguided in this particular case, let them remain oblivious to the truth even after being confronted with it in so many different ways: “Why? Why did we walk like meek sheep to the slaughterhouse? Why did we not fight back? What had we to lose? Nothing but our lives. Why did we not run away and hide? We might have had a chance to survive. Why did we walk deliberately and obediently into their clutches? I know why. Because we had faith in humanity. Because we did not really think that human beings were capable of committing such crimes.”(p.89) A very important theme addressed in this novel is the multi-layered culture of remembrance. These recollections take on many different forms and accompany Gerda all throughout her life. The memories of her family and her blissful childhood eventually advance to the only motivational element to give her the strength to survive. Every time she feels the world closing in on her, every time she thinks she can’t possibly endure one more day of this barbarity, she remembers her parents and her brother: the dreams of being reunited with them somehow make everything more tolerable. Even after she finally accepts that she will never see her loved ones again, she continues cherishing and cultivating those memories and considers them her most significant legacy.  And then there are, of course, the recollections of her experiences during the war, which resurface frequently despite her best efforts to forget them. But she refuses to be perceived as a helpless victim, even though she realizes that being a Holocaust survivor is not something you can just discard whenever you choose to: on the contrary, it is a chapter that will never be fully closed: “For me, plunging into community work has yielded the greatest satisfaction, while warding off dark memories. There are, however, pains that will not go away, adding their burden over extended periods of time. They are more infrequent, but when they recur, they often cut much deeper. Though I know their roots, I am still unable to deal with them; I am resigned to accepting the small, indelible scars they leave each time.” (p.252) As an adult Ms. Klein has committed her life to endorsing a number of worthy causes and became distinguished with numerous honors and prizes. The documentary film based on her experiences (One Survivor Remembers) received an Oscar. She has actively participated in programs designed to discourage teenage suicide and has generally always promoted initiatives with the mission of helping children. Nonetheless, her existence has always remained one where happiness was balanced by pain. Surviving the Holocaust means a person is forever torn between an equal measure of gratitude and guilt, an emotional state so eloquently expressed by the writer in her book: “I lingered at the window of what used to be the American field hospital, now a furniture factory, where I then lay in critical condition for many months. It was the window next to my double-decker bunk, in which I awoke on my first day of freedom to ask myself, ‘Why am I here?... I am no better!’ Standing there, I prayed, in the hope that perhaps through my life’s work I might have provided a fragment of the answer and given back a small part of what I have received.” (p. 261) I think that after reading this literary treasure you will join me in supporting the conviction that Ms. Klein’s survival has indeed made our world a better place. Her tireless efforts to spread awareness and tolerance were ultimately rewarded with the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2010. And I, confronted with the unfaltering spirit and charisma of this remarkable woman can only humbly bow my head and whisper: thank you…  For everything. For letting us become a part of your life, a part of your story. For your courage and strength. For your honesty and warmth. May your example serve as a warning, but also as a beacon of hope for generations to come. Quotes come from the following edition of this work: Weissmann Klein, Gerda: All But My Life. New York: Hill and Wang, 1995.
PICTURES OF GERDA’S PARENTS AND BROTHER GERDA AS A YOUNG GIRL

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All But My Life ******               Gerda Weissmann Klein All But My Life, written by Gerda Weissmann Klein, is a gripping and inspiring account of how a teenage girl managed to survive the Holocaust. A native of the Polish Bielitz, she is merely 15 years old when the Nazis invade the country of her childhood. Soon thereafter things begin to change for the worse with each passing day, the Jewish population becomes subjected to restrictions so harsh they threaten their very survival. Her only brother Arthur is seized and shipped to a Concentration Camp. The family is deprived of food, coal, reduced to living in the basement of their own house. Inevitably even this dreary state of events does not last long and is soon followed by the next step: the ghetto.  Along with the rest of the Jewish community they are forced to reside there until Gerda and her parents undergo the final separation, never to see each other again. Because the author herself was not able to win any clarity in this particular matter we never find out what exactly happened to her parents or her brother, except that they perished along with millions of other Jews. Gerda, however, is chosen to work in a Labor Camp and thus commences her long ordeal of hardship and heartache. In the years, during which she leads the existence as a slave to the Third Reich, she is relocated several times. Her “places of residence” include Bolkenhaim, Märzdorf, Landeshut und Grünberg. Some of them prove to be bearable; others drive her to the brink of human endurance and almost cost the young girl her life. However, compared to the prisoners transported to Death Camps such as Auschwitz she can still call herself extremely lucky, because the conditions of her incarceration turn out to be a lot milder, ultimately contributing to her being able to stay alive. As the day of liberation approaches, the girls from the Labor Camp are sent on a brutal, ruthless death march. Its only purpose: kill as many of them along the way as possible. Out of the 2000 young women, who set out on this journey, only 120 live long enough to experience freedom. All three of Gerda’s best friends die of starvation and exhaustion. She herself weights 68 pounds and needs a long time to recuperate. She almost loses both of her feet to amputation, but with incredible courage fights for her health and happiness. An American officer, one of the group to first arrive to their rescue, gradually becomes more than just her savior and helps her discover laughter and love again. Eventually they get married. She emigrates to the United States, where she leads a joyful, fulfilled life, blessed with a wonderful family and professional recognition. But the memories of what she has experienced never quite go away and continue to haunt her, raw and painful, immune to the healing powers of time. So far this novel might seem like just one of the numerous Holocaust Memoirs, certainly moving, but nonetheless something we have all read before. So what makes it so special? Well, let me start with the fact that Ms. Klein went on to become a professional writer and in every beautifully crafted page you can recognize the amazing talent and style worthy of a master of prose, a virtuoso able to convey a mood with just a few poignant words. This account is kept more in the form of a direct report of the transpired events, it truly feels like these were the thoughts and emotions of a teenager, expressed in an easy to read, free-flowing manner. Gerda’s musings are artfully formulated, her descriptions vary from lyrical to dramatic, but what creates the biggest impact is the sheer force of her emotions. She paints pictures full of melancholy, longing for the past and ever-lasting sorrow that go deep under your skin. Certain passages literally brought tears to my eyes, their tragic tone made my heart squeeze with empathy, sadness and anguish. If you are in need of a powerful Catharsis, this would certainly be the tool to use… Ms. Klein definitely understands how to hold the interest of the reader with a mixture of a suspenseful story and deep insights into the human psyche. This novel offers a true literary feast to recipients with different desires, as it contains elements of an adventure and survival story, romance, poetic descriptions of nature or associations to old fairy-tales and legends. Despite this depth of expression and suffering Gerda never tries to paint herself off as the ever- noble and patient heroine, stoically enduring all pain with humility and grace. Throughout the whole story she remains fiercely real, avoiding the temptation to show herself in a more flattering light at the price of foregoing authenticity. She actually feels a great deal of resentment regarding her situation towards other, more fortunate people and often feels sorry for herself. She despairs over being cheated out of life, deprived of the things that any normal teenager could do. Sometimes she even appears somewhat vain and shallow, like a petulant and stubborn child. She does not always consider the feelings of those around her, occasionally demonstrates selfishness and little regard of how her actions hurt others. She’s not afraid to expose her angry, egoistic side and ugly qualities: she embraces them as part of who she is. And that very honestly makes this story strike such a genuine chord, as it is a tale of a real person with authentic feelings born under extreme circumstances. In her memoir Ms. Klein also poses the much discussed and controversial question: why did the Jewish people put up almost no resistance and allowed the Nazis to systematically exterminate them with such ease? Why did they follow all the directives and accommodated their oppressors in all their atrocious whims? In the end they were going to die anyway, so wouldn’t it be better to at least go down fighting? I think the conclusion the reader draws after reading this work is that people never fully believed that such bestiality could really take place, not until the very last moment, not until it was happening to them. The faith and hope in the moral norms of civilization, so misguided in this particular case, let them remain oblivious to the truth even after being confronted with it in so many different ways: “Why? Why did we walk like meek sheep to the slaughterhouse? Why did we not fight back? What had we to lose? Nothing but our lives. Why did we not run away and hide? We might have had a chance to survive. Why did we walk deliberately and obediently into their clutches? I know why. Because we had faith in humanity. Because we did not really think that human beings were capable of committing such crimes.”(p.89) A very important theme addressed in this novel is the multi-layered culture of remembrance. These recollections take on many different forms and accompany Gerda all throughout her life. The memories of her family and her blissful childhood eventually advance to the only motivational element to give her the strength to survive. Every time she feels the world closing in on her, every time she thinks she can’t possibly endure one more day of this barbarity, she remembers her parents and her brother: the dreams of being reunited with them somehow make everything more tolerable. Even after she finally accepts that she will never see her loved ones again, she continues cherishing and cultivating those memories and considers them her most significant legacy.  And then there are, of course, the recollections of her experiences during the war, which resurface frequently despite her best efforts to forget them. But she refuses to be perceived as a helpless victim, even though she realizes that being a Holocaust survivor is not something you can just discard whenever you choose to: on the contrary, it is a chapter that will never be fully closed: “For me, plunging into community work has yielded the greatest satisfaction, while warding off dark memories. There are, however, pains that will not go away, adding their burden over extended periods of time. They are more infrequent, but when they recur, they often cut much deeper. Though I know their roots, I am still unable to deal with them; I am resigned to accepting the small, indelible scars they leave each time.” (p.252) As an adult Ms. Klein has committed her life to endorsing a number of worthy causes and became distinguished with numerous honors and prizes. The documentary film based on her experiences (One Survivor Remembers) received an Oscar. She has actively participated in programs designed to discourage teenage suicide and has generally always promoted initiatives with the mission of helping children. Nonetheless, her existence has always remained one where happiness was balanced by pain. Surviving the Holocaust means a person is forever torn between an equal measure of gratitude and guilt, an emotional state so eloquently expressed by the writer in her book: “I lingered at the window of what used to be the American field hospital, now a furniture factory, where I then lay in critical condition for many months. It was the window next to my double-decker bunk, in which I awoke on my first day of freedom to ask myself, ‘Why am I here?... I am no better!’ Standing there, I prayed, in the hope that perhaps through my life’s work I might have provided a fragment of the answer and given back a small part of what I have received.” (p. 261) I think that after reading this literary treasure you will join me in supporting the conviction that Ms. Klein’s survival has indeed made our world a better place. Her tireless efforts to spread awareness and tolerance were ultimately rewarded with the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2010. And I, confronted with the unfaltering spirit and charisma of this remarkable woman can only humbly bow my head and whisper: thank you…  For everything. For letting us become a part of your life, a part of your story. For your courage and strength. For your honesty and warmth. May your example serve as a warning, but also as a beacon of hope for generations to come. Quotes come from the following edition of this work: Weissmann Klein, Gerda: All But My Life. New York: Hill and Wang, 1995.
PICTURES OF GERDA’S PARENTS AND BROTHER GERDA AS A YOUNG GIRL
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