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Klein's openness and warmth are reflected everywhere in her famous book, from the opening account of her family in prewar Poland to her three-year imprisonment in German work camps. On May 7, 1945, she was liberated by the U.S. Army and rescued by Lt. Kurt Klein, whom she married. Photos.
Excerpted from All But My Life by Gerda Weissmann Klein. Copyright © 1995 Gerda Weissmann Klein. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
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Gerda's serene and idyllic childhood is shattered when the Nazis march into Poland on September 3, 1939. Although the Weissmanns were permitted to live on for a while in the basement of their home, they are eventually separated and sent to German labor camps. Over the next few years Gerda experienced the slow, inexorable stripping away of all but her life. By the end of the war she had lost her parents, brother, home, possessions, and community; even the dear friends she made in the labor camps, with whom she had shared so many hardships, were dead.
Despite her horrifying experiences, Gerda Weissmann Klein conveys great strength of spirit and faith in humanity. In the darkness of the camps, Gerda and her young friends managed to create a community of friendship and love; stripped to the essence of life, they were able to survive the barbarity of their captors. Gerda's beautifully written story gives an invaluable message to young Americans. It introduces them to this century's terrible history of devastation and prejudice, yet shows that with hope and faith, hatred can be overcome.
Preparing students to read All But My Life:
The questions, discussion topics, and assignments that follow will enrich your students' understanding of All But My Life and significantly expand their knowledge of the Holocaust and the Second World War. Many of your students will have grandparents who remember the war; some may have fought in Germany, others may even be Holocaust survivors themselves. Encourage your students to interview older people who remember the war. They might tape record these interviews and play them to the class. Every student will be interested in the HBO documentary on Gerda
Weissmann Klein, One Survivor Remembers, which won the 1996 Academy Award® for Best Documentary Short. Videocassettes of this film (ISBN 1-55974-587-8) are available from Direct Cinema Limited, P.O. Box 10003, Santa Monica, CA 90418. You should urge your students to watch the films and documentaries about Nazi Europe and the Holocaust which frequently appear on television. Try, too, to have them relate the events that Gerda witnessed to events in our own culture. Could a holocaust happen here? Why, or why not? Current news stories could also be of interest. Where else in the world are people being driven from their homes and forced to starve? What might the rest of the world do about it?
Understanding the story:
1. What historic event occurred on September 3, 1939? What was its immediate effect on the Weissmanns' lives? What was the Third Reich?
2. On the day of the Nazi invasion, Gerda's parents ask her to telephone the other family members, but when she does so there is no reply (p. 6). Why not? Where have these people gone?
3. Why do Mr. and Mrs. Weissmann feel "relief and pride" (p. 6) when their children insist on staying with them?
4. Why don't Gerda's parents react when the carpet begins to burn (p. 8)?
5. Why does Gerda's brother, Arthur, slap her (p.8)?
6. Why does the "drunken, jubilant mob" in Bielitz believe it has been liberated (9)?
7. When one of Arthur's classmates tells him that young Jewish boys are being murdered in the camps, Arthur says, "Nonsense" (p. 17). Why doesn't he believe this boy?
8. The night before Arthur leaves home, he sits at his desk "looking through the mementos of his youth" (p. 18). What thoughts do you think are going through Arthur's head?
9. Why does Zeloski, the baker's delivery man, use the past tense when he speaks of Arthur (p. 19)? Why does Gerda say, "I hate you"?
10. Why doesn't Arthur want his family to accompany him to the station? Why doesn't he turn around as he leaves the house?
11. Why does Mrs. Weissmann decide to visit the cemetery after Arthur leaves home?
12. What does the young man tell the concert audience at the resort of Krynica? Why is he carried away by the police? Do you think he really is a maniac?
13. Why does Mr. Weissmann decide that the family should sell all of their belongings? What words would you use to describe Gerda's feelings after the sale?
14. What does Gerda's father have in mind when he says, "Whatever you are thinking now is wrong" (p. 32)? What promise does Gerda make to him at this moment?
15. What does Gerda mean when she says that Niania is an "old Austrian" (p. 34)? Who was the Emperor Franz Josef?
16. Why doesn't Gerda tell her parents about her conversation with Arthur's friend Peter, even after they discover that Arthur is still alive?
17. What does it mean to the Polish Jews that the Germans have violated their pact with the Russians (p. 46)? What will it mean to Arthur?
18. Why is Gerda not able to summon a doctor the night her father has a heart attack?
19. What does Ulla represent to the young Gerda? Why does Gerda decide to learn English, despite the danger of doing so?
20. What is Gerda's initial reaction to Abek? Does she feel positive, negative, or uncertain?
21. How are Gerda's life and character affected by the terrible letter from Erika? What changes have the dreadful events wrought on Erika's own character? "I want to kill, just kill," she writes (p. 70). Would you say that acts of hatred engender more hate?
22. How does Gerda deduce Arthur's changing state of mind from his letters?
23. In April 1942 the Jews in Bielitz are ordered to move to the quarter near the railway terminal which would become their "ghetto." What does the word ghetto mean? What was its original meaning, and what has it come to signify today in our country?
24. Why does Gerda "despise" Niania when she goes to say goodbye (p. 75)?
25. Why do Gerda's parents refuse to look back at their old home when they leave for the ghetto? Why does Gerda choose to look back?
26. Why are Gerda's parents in better spirits when they arrive in their ghetto apartment?
27. What does Aussiedlung mean? Why is the word so resonant for the Bielitz Jews?
28. What does Judenrein mean?
29. How would you describe the farewell Gerda's parents take of one another: joyful, sorrowful, or a combination of the two? What legacy do they leave the young Gerda?
30. Who is Merin? Why does he say to Gerda, "Are you crazy?" (p. 90)? Why does he throw her back on the truck and say "You are too young to die" (p. 91)? Is it because he pities her and wants to save her life, or because, as a worker, she will be useful to the Nazi State?
31. Why does Gerda walk away from her mother without looking back?
1. "Now I have to live," Gerda reflects on the train (p. 95). What reasons does she give for wanting to live?
2. What is the Militz? How does it differ from the ordinary police force? Why does the Militz Commander feel so hostile toward his own race? Why does he agree to give Gerda her permit?
3. Why is Abek's family so generous and hospitable to Gerda? What is Gerda's reaction to their kindness?
4. What is a Dulag?
5. Who are the "living skeletons" Gerda meets in the Dulag? Where are they to be sent?
6. Why does Gerda refuse the working card and decide to move on to the camp? What does her decision have to do with Abek? Why doesn't she want any "special privileges" (p. 107)?
7. During the train ride to the camp, why does Suse Kunz say that she feels "pretty good, in spite of everything" (p. 113)? Does this statement reflect Gerda's mood?
1. Who is Frau Kügler?
2. Bolkenhain is Gerda's first view of the "homeland of Nazism" (p. 114). How do the Germans there seem different from those she observed in Poland? What is "propaganda," and what effect has it had on the German people's preconceptions about Jews?
3. Who is Mrs. Berger? What does she imply in her short speech to the young women (p. 116)? Do you believe that her methods for dealing with the inmates were good ones? Do you find her a sympathetic character?
4. Why does the moon become Gerda's "loyal friend"? What does the moon signify to her?
5. Why do the inmates of Bolkenhain have to wear three stars? Why is it necessary that they be identified as Jews from every angle?
6. Who is Meister Zimmer? How do his attitude and behavior differ from those of Frau Kugler?
7. How does Mrs. Berger get Gerda to acknowledge her father's death? Do you think Mrs. Berger's method is kind? What method does Gerda use to cope with the dreadful knowledge?
8. Under what government did Gerda's grandfather live? Why was he exiled to Siberia? Why was he not given a trial? Why was he released and allowed to go home?
9. What is Yom Kippur? Why do the prisoners decide to fast, and what satisfaction do they derive from doing this fast?
10. Why is Lotte weeping at the camp fence? Why is she, unlike Gerda, unable to draw on happy memories to help her survive?
11. What makes Gerda sense that she will never see Arthur again after receiving his frayed, dirty letter?
12. How did Frau Kugler save Gerda's life? Do you believe that genuine affection existed between Frau Kugler and the girls under her care?
13. How did Abek's mother and sisters die? What mixed emotions does their fate inspire in Gerda? Why is she ashamed of her own feelings?
14. What message does Gerda communicate in the play she writes and performs for her fellow prisoners? In what way does the play manage to convey hope? What does Gerda get out of the experience of putting on the play, and why does she count it as the "greatest thing I have done in my life" (p. 142)?
15. In the summer of 1943, a change comes over Bolkenhain: incoming mail is cut off, Meister Zimmer becomes abusive, and there is not enough raw material for spinning. What is the meaning of this change? What turn is the war taking for the Germans?
1. How do the Marzdorf Judenalteste and Lagerfuhrerin differ from their counterparts at Bolkenhain? What does this mean for the inmates?
2. Who is Frau Aufsicht?
3. Why is the supervisor's question to Gerda, "Are you hungry?" (p. 147) a "tricky" one?
4. What keeps Gerda from throwing herself under a train and ending her life?
1. Upon seeing Litzi, Frau Kugler, and Mrs. Berger again, Gerda's reaction is "This was home!" (p. 153). What has she learned from her experiences at Marzdorf?
2. What does Gerda state to be the most important quality in a future husband? Why do the other girls laugh at her opinion? Do you agree with her or with them?
3. Why did Abek volunteer to come to Burgberg? Gerda feels responsible for his coming. Do you think that she is responsible? If so, does she make up for it by her loving behavior to Abek during his last days?
4. Why do Italian prisoners suddenly appear in Burgberg? What has happened in the war to turn the Italians and the Germans into enemies?
5. Why did Gerda decline to see Abek in Burgberg, writing him a note instead?
1. Who is the Betriebsleiter? This man is what one would describe as a sadist. What is a sadist, and which of the Betriebsleiter's characteristics are sadistic?
2. What is the Spinnerei? Why is it so dangerous to work there? 3. What is tuberculosis? What happens to the girls who contract it in Grunberg?
4. What impact does the beating by the SS guard have on Gerda? How does it affect her will to survive? How does it affect the other girls?
5. Why are the girls undressed and given numbers (pp. 178-179)?
6. Why does Gerda want to procure poison?
1. Why do the authorities decide to embark on the march to Czechoslovakia? What turn in the war has prompted this flight?
2. Why do Gerda and Ilse not carry out Gerda's plan to go to the police station? What might have happened to them had they done this?
3. What does Tusia mean when she says that Gerda has given her "belief in humanity" (p. 197)? What is Gerda's response? Is her decision to make up "good news" for the other girls a good one?
4. Why do the guards abandon the marchers?
5. What is the significance of the white flag hanging from the church steeple in Volary?
1. What is Gerda's first impression of Kurt Klein? What does he represent to her? Why does she feel compelled to tell him they are Jews? What is his response?
2. When does Gerda finally admit to herself that her parents are dead? Why has she delayed the acknowledgement until this moment?
3. What does Kurt mean when he says, "It seems we fought a war against the Nazis, but I haven't met a Nazi yet" (p. 221)?
4. Why does Gerda compare herself to Hans Christian Andersen's mermaid?
5. What are Gerda's emotions on seeing Liesel, Suse, and Ilse's graves? Why does she turn abruptly away from them?
1. Gerda writes, "Survival is both an exalted privilege and a painful burden" (p. 247). What does she mean by this? In what way is it a burden?
2. What does the State of Israel symbolize to Gerda?
3. What are Gerda's feelings about suicide? What has formed these opinions?
4. What is the significance of Gerda's guilt over having, long ago, purloined a rum ball? How does this guilt carry over into her current life?
5. Why was Gerda unable to speak German on the radio? Why does Gerda prefer speaking English to any other language?
Questions for class discussion
1. In her Preface, Gerda writes "I feel at peace, at last. I have discharged a burden, and paid a debt to many nameless heroes." What burden has she discharged, what debt has she repaid? What has been achieved by her relating the stories of Lotte, Erika, and others?
2. What motivations kept the Weissmanns from fleeing Poland before the Nazi invasion, as Uncle Leo suggested they do? Did Mrs. Weissmann make a mistake in making her husband's health their primary concern? Why did the Weissmanns continue to hope that everything would be all right? Later, Aunt Anna urges the Weissmanns to accompany her into the Gouvernement. Why do they refuse to go? Was their decision justified?
3. Gerda couldn't understand why her neighbors made a Nazi flag to hang from the Weissmanns' house. What do you think their motivations were? Might this action have helped the Weissmans?
4. At the ruins of the Jewish Temple in Bielitz, Arthur gives Gerda a little piece of glass. Why does Gerda keep the glass for so long? What does it come to signify to her?
5. How does Gerda's vision of her parents change during the course of the book? What words would you use to describe her feelings about them when she is a young girl at the beginning of the war; at the end of the war, after their deaths; and as an older woman, a mother herself, looking back over the years?
6. On the door of Mr. Weissmann's factory, the Nazis place a sign that says: Dogs and Jews Not Allowed to Enter (p. 26). Do you find that the Nazis treated the Jewish people better, or worse, than dogs? In what ways did they consider the Jews useful to them and therefore worthy to be kept alive?
7. When the Weissmanns move into the basement of their house, Trude, who will move from the basement to the main part of the house, says "without malice or sarcasm" (p. 33) that she will be glad to have a nice place to spend Christmas. Do you think that Trude is really without malice? Do you think she might feel resentment for the difficult, impoverished childhood she has led? Why might she, and people like her, irrationally blame the Jewish population for their troubles?
8. What role does religion play in the lives of the Weissmann family? How do Gerda's religious beliefs evolve over the course of the book? Why, during the final march through Czechoslovakia, does Gerda stop praying?
9. Of all the Germans Gerda meets during the war, only two -- the officer in Bielitz who discovered her English textbook and Frau Kugler -- "behaved as though they were human" (p. 51). What can account for the fact that so many people acted with such incredible cruelty? Do you believe that the German nation should be held collectively responsible for the atrocities against the Jewish people? Or do you think that the kind of madness that overtook them is latent in all human beings?
10. How would you describe Abek's character? Can you understand Gerda's negative feelings toward him? How do their characters differ? How do their attitudes toward religion differ? Do you think that Gerda led Abek on, or that she dealt with him in the most sympathetic and humane way possible? How does Erika's letter about her love for Henek help to make Gerda understand her own feelings for Abek?
11. Reflecting upon the horrible scene in which families were separated and thrown into trucks, Gerda wonders, "Why? Why did we walk like meek sheep to the slaughterhouse? Why did we not fight back?" (p. 89). What answer does she give? Does that answer seem sufficient to you? What other reasons might you give?
12. Frau Kugler "appeared grim and forebidding," but "her harsh appearance turned out to conceal a kind heart" (p. 114). What lesson does Gerda learn about the difference between appearance and reality? What other characters in her story present a deceptive exterior? A terrible situation, like war, can bring out evil and rapacious qualities in some people. Does it seem to you that it can also bring out extraordinary and unexpected qualities in others? What other examples does the book provide?
13. Gerda relates the dramatic story of her grandfather's exile in Siberia and his return home (pp. 125-126). In what ways does his story resemble that of Gerda and her family? How does this memory help her to accept her situation in the camp? To what extent, in your opinion, were the governments of Czarist Russia and Nazi Germany similar to one another? How highly did they value human life? Would you say that the word "authoritarian" describes both systems?
14. Although Gerda loses her family early in the war, she enjoys firm friendships with girls like Ilse and Suse. What does friendship come to mean to her? How instrumental is it in keeping her alive and full of hope?
15. Could Gerda and her fellow prisoners be described as slaves? How do Gerda's definition of freedom, and her feelings about freedom, change over the course of her imprisonment? How does she manage, occasionally, to achieve feelings of freedom?
16. How would you describe the character of Kurt Klein? Why is he so well matched with Gerda? What does he, as an American, a Jew, and a liberator, symbolize to Gerda? How does Kurt's character differ from Abek's?
17. Gerda describes her childhood as "safe and sheltered, too sheltered perhaps for what the years ahead were to bring, but full of lovely memories from which to draw strength" (p. 24). Do you believe that Gerda's happy childhood and loving family contributed to her ability to survive where so many others did not? At the end of the book, she says that her childhood "in all probability was not as perfect as I have chosen to remember" (p. 258). Why has Gerda chosen to remember only the happy times with her parents? What other characteristics have helped to make Gerda a survivor?
18. Gerda writes, "Throughout my years in the camps, and against nearly insuperable odds, I knew of no one who committed suicide" (p. 250). Why do you think these people, who suffered such great loss and pain, did not resort to suicide, when many people take their lives for seemingly lesser reasons?
Expanding your knowledge
1. Read a short history of World War II, either in a book or in the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Then divide a piece of paper in half. On the left half place events from All But My Life and the dates they took place. Look up what events took place in the war on those dates and place them on the right half of the page. How can the events that immediately affected Gerda be explained by the larger history of the war itself? Which dates does the author consider most important? Which do you consider the most important?
2. Find a map of wartime Europe. Locate Germany, Poland, and Czechoslovakia; within them, locate Bielitz, Sosnowitz, Bolkenhain, Marzdorf, Landeshut, and Grunberg. Trace the route of the march from Grunberg to Volary.
3. Interview someone who lived during World War II (if possible, find someone who fought in the war or who lived in Europe at that time). You may want to ask the following questions: How did you first learn about the war? How did your life change as a result of the war? How did you follow war news? When did you hear about the Holocaust and how did this news affect you?
4. Although Nazi Germany constituted the most notorious chapter in the history of anti-Semitism, it did not invent this particular prejudice, which dates back almost as far as Christianity itself. Research the history of anti-Semitism. How did it begin? Why did it continue? In which countries, and in which centuries, was it most pervasive? Have there been other Jewish holocausts in history? Have you observed incidents of anti-Semitism in your own community?
5. Many people called World War I (1914-1918), in which many millions died, "the war to end all wars," and most Europeans, like Gerda's father, found it impossible to believe that such devastation could occur again. World War I ended with the defeated Germans being forced to sign the Treaty of Versailles, which demanded excessively harsh reparations from the already devastated country. Research World War I and the Versailles treaty. In your opinion, was the treaty unfair or unreasonable? Might it indeed have sown the seeds of Nazi hatred?
6. Read a book on the history of Nazism (you might choose one from the suggested reading list below, or find one of your own choice). How did the movement begin? Why did so many people listen to Hitler and take him seriously? How did Nazism compare with the Fascism of the Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini? In America in the last few years there have been numerous cases of neo-Nazism, accompanied by the desecration of Jewish cemeteries and other acts of hate. These neo-Nazis claim that their hate-inspired writing and speech is protected by the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of speech for all. Do you believe that such hatred should be protected? Likewise, should the Ku Klux Klan be legally permitted to march, burn crosses, and spread racist and anti-Semitic literature?
7. Mrs. Weissmann says, "It will be as it was with Napoleon" (p. 44), trying to believe that Hitler's swift progress will soon be reversed. Where, and how, did Napoleon's fortunes change? Did Hitler's eventual defeat resemble Napoleon's? Research the history of Central Europe, Gerda's home. How many wars have taken place there in the last five hundred years?
8. "Neutrality with Russia had been violated; German troops had crossed the frontier" (p. 46). For the Weissmanns, this meant that things would get worse for Arthur; but for the Nazis, it was to mean a new, and powerful, enemy. As you research the history of World War II, look up the Nazi-Soviet pact. How and why did Communists and Fascists, who had such different ideologies, join forces? What caused their falling out? What was Russia's enmity to mean for Germany?
9. In the Nuremberg war crimes trials that were held immediately after the war, most of the Nazi leaders were tried and many were sentenced. But not all of the war criminals were caught; even today, a few who have lived in hiding for decades are being caught and brought to trial. Find the names of some Nazis who have been brought to justice in the last twenty years. What were their crimes? What sort of lives did they lead in hiding? What punishments were they finally given?
10. Follow news reports of murder and genocide that are coming out of present-day Bosnia and Africa. How do these events resemble, or differ from, the Holocaust during World War II? How is the international community responding? What is the UN doing about it? What should be done?
Suggestions for further reading:
Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl; Melissa Fay Greene, The Temple Bombing; Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf; Thomas Keneally, Schindler's List; Chaim Potok, In the Beginning; Art Spiegelman, Maus; Studs Terkel, The Good War; Emile Zola, I Accuse.
The Diary of Anne Frank; Europa, Europa; Pillar of Fire; The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich; Schindler's List; Shoah; The Sorrow and the Pity.
Posted December 15, 2010
I would definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in the holocaust because it demonstrates how strength and love can be found in unlikely places and how hope can still exist when all else is lost. Gerda, a real holocaust survivor, writes in a way that is so personal that you feel like you are in the story with her constantly battling for life and overcoming hopelessness. When each member of Gerda's family is shipped separately to different camps and until she is liberated Gerda is constantly telling herself lies and holding the picture of her homecoming in her heart for strength by believing that she has something left to live for after the war. This really is still something I think about and how after the war she never returned to the home of her childhood because deep down she knew that her family was dead and was never coming back home. Another part that made me put down the book and think about was when Gerda had put together a play to entertain her fellow prisoners and to amuse her jailers. Gerda was glad to make them all forget about their doomed futures and make them smile. This gave all the girls hope that someday everything might be normal and reminded them that the rhythm of the work camps is not the only thing that exists in the world. Gerda finds love and kindness from an unlikely American solider to a German officer who risks everything to bring the girls notes into the camp they work at. Gerda is an extremely strong woman to overcome the slaughter of her childhood home, her family, her friends, and the loss of all but her life.
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Posted July 19, 2013
This was a well written memoir. I would recommend for anyone who is interested in this subject matter. HOWEVER, I am very disappointed with the editing. I was reading along & when I turned the page it wouldn ' t make sense. Sometimes a phrase would be missing but once it must have been several sentances. I have no idea why the SS picked her out to go into the woods. The next page they were marching again. For several other books this has happened and there have been other typos. But they were free. I paid for this one. I AM VERY UNHAPPY WITH BARNES AND NOBLE
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Posted January 19, 2013
It was one of the best inspirational books i've read in a long time. I finished this book within 2 days because i couldn't put it down.
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Posted April 2, 2014
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Posted November 10, 2013
Posted August 22, 2013
Posted April 8, 2013
I highly recommend this book, I saw Gerda Weissmann Klein on a morning talk show here in Phoenix and got very interested in her story, so glad I went out and bought the book, she is a woman to admire, I will never forget her story, she is truly admirable!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 12, 2013
Gerda is a bit different than many of the Polish Jews during the Holocaust, in that her little town was a bit fluid its German/Polish identification. As a border town, it used to be a part of Austria-Hungary, so many of its citizens spoke German as their first language (she actually admits that it was her first, and the language of her mother). So she had a fairly strong German connection, spoke the language, and was generally pretty immersed within the culture. In fact, in the beginning, when she describes the town's reaction to Hitler invading, and all the celebrations surrounding his arrival in Poland in 1939, she hints off-hand that the town was never that welcoming to Jews in general; her family and many other Jews had always had a sense of being "below" the rest of the population, and the coming of Hitler had simply allowed a physical manifestation of the already-present anti-Semitic mentality.
Gerda originally penned her memoir in 1957, a little over ten years after her liberation, and then wrote an epilogue for the re-issue in 1997, a contrast which I found very illuminating. In her original memoir, her voice is very simple, very straight-forward, and somewhat immature and unpolished. She is a teenager interrupted, and her interpretations are through her own limited young perspective, without the ability to relate past her own self. Her original telling of her own reactions and thoughts are very genuine and raw, and it reflects much of her culture of quiet disbelief, yet an immense patience to simply wait for a time when things will eventually get better again, as they always have during times of historical persecution. She even mentions why she thinks the Jewish people went so quietly to their own deaths: They still had faith that humanity couldn't commit such atrocities.
Her later voice, in the epilogue, is one that has seem many years since, and relates her own experiences differently. She mentions her parents, how she herself, having become a mother three times over, now knows the terror and the quiet courage that her own parents and many other must have felt, her disappointment that she couldn't relate at the time, and her immense appreciation for things and instances that most people would never be able to appreciate. It is a voice that has seen much more reflection than the voice in her original memoir, and the contrast is beautiful.
The Holocaust and atrocities might have sprouted roots and gained initial momentum from the rife antisemitism and hatred in the Nazi regime, but it was only allowed to come to full fruition by the passivity and indifference from those surrounding. Individual memoirs like this, and people like Gerda who share their experiences and appreciations remind us that terrible things happen, but those that chose to do nothing are ultimately just as guilty as those that committed the crimes
Posted October 20, 2012
Posted September 23, 2012
Posted June 28, 2012
Posted November 11, 2010
In Gerda Weissmann Klein's masterpiece All But My Life, elucidates the tragic story of a adolescent girl who is drawn into the Holocaust. Throughout the novel, the adolescence and her family are shipped to different concentration camps one at a time, to a point where all of the members have vanished from existence. She endures the journey of pain, through the dark, and difficult and trying times of the various slave-labor camps. Although through her own character, unexpected sacrifices of her dear friends, and many coincidences, the youth survives the horrid camps. All But My Life, clearly depicts the themes of how morality is truly an option, which shows that no matter if people have freedom or not, they will forever have the choice to act with morality and compassion. Also, in order to survive the dramatic events, Gerda shows that sustaining the power of hope in the course of harsh times can provide others with hope and joy. Reading this novel, I did like the flow of the story and the various themes in the book, which give people a clear understanding of them. Along with the flow of the story, I also liked the characters of the tale, which provide different backgrounds and added emotions. I suggest this novel to those who are very interested in the events and experiences of the Holocaust, or are just looking for something to pass the time with. I would also recommend the Schindler's List.
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Posted November 9, 2010
It will be a book that stays with you. It should no matter what you are dealt in life that you can overcome it and move on. It is also a time in history that should not be forgotten and not repeated again. It is difficult to read and times but needed. I also saw the documentary that was done and highly recommend it. Please have this book recommended or on required reading lists.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
When I was in elementary school the author came to give an inspirational talk by sharing with us some of the experiences that she had been through, to show us that no matter how bad things get, life is always worth living. At the time I was so young that I remember focusing more on the tale of her journey through the war and less on the aspects of her personal relationships with her family and love interests. I happened across this book from a friend whose family member purchased it as a result of our meeting with the author all those years ago. It was my fist time reading the book and I do have to admit that it is not as engrossing as I would have hoped, and there were a lot of chapters where I really had to force myself to stick with it. Overall, though, I do think that it is a wonderful story and definitely worth the time and effort it took me to finish it, and I can definitely see all the aspects of her struggle better now as an adult than I did before.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 25, 2010
A wonderfully written, first-person account, by a truly inspiring woman. I have read many books on the holocaust. Few make you feel hopeful at the end, the way All but My Life made me feel. Mrs. Weissmann-Klein's writing style is so personal, I found myself inside her story. A courageous account that I highly recommend!
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Millions fought for their lives in the Holocaust of WWII, millions died, and some survived, Gerda Weissmann Klein, a survivor, gives to the world a moving and inspiring story that will forever be in the hearts of her englightened readers.
Gerda Weissmann Klein recounts the darkest, most evil parts of humanity, while at the same time, never loses hope in humankind. Being born a Jew, the escape from the terrifying holocaust and Nazi camps was nearly inevitable for the Jews in Poland. Gerda grew up in Poland and WWII had struck Europe when she was fifteen. From the time her home was invaded, to the next six years of her life, Gerda would face numerous death camps and murderous death marches, yet she fights through it all with courage and hope. In the novel, Gerda recounts many stories and struggles she had faced during the times she was in the camps and on the death march. She was striped of her family and ultimately striped from life she had once known. This book is a fast reader! Page after page is filled with horrifying images of the barbaric cruelty of the Nazis, and the power in hope possessed by Gerda and her friend IIse. Gerda believes in her suffering -she believes that there is a greater purpose behind all the pain and struggles. She believes there is good in everything: in humankind. Throughout her memoir she recalls the intolerable evil of humanity and also the compassion that every human has the ability to possess, pointing out that all people have the choice to act humanely or act in cruelty. Gerda maintains the mood of fear of what is next with, also, an underlying optimism. This book is thought provoking and emotional; questioning human goodness and a comfort of hope. This book is a tough one to put down. The power in this book makes Gerda's story a moving memoir, reminding the readers of the terrors human kind can create. Despite the struggle and difficult, risky choices, Gerda survived her nightmare and lived to tell her remarkable story. Her telling this story is one of the many goods that have come out of her unimaginable experience. There are many books written by Holocaust survivors and about victims, and every story is different and touching in its own way, but Gerda's book is one of the forerunners for best holocaust stories because it has raw emotion and intricate themes. There is no doubt this book is a classic reminder of what hope and optimism can make one achieve.
Ripped away from everything she has ever known, Gerda struggled by being taken away from her family and home and forced to work in Jewish slave camps for years. She had to reach deep inside herself to muster her hope and courage and fought everyday to survive. Waiting for the liberation day, Weissmann talks about the unbelievable triumphs she overcame while being a hostage of the German army.
The invasion of Poland will be one day some people will never forget. One person such as Gerda Weissmann. In the novel All But My Life by Gerda Weismann, a carefree child born in Poland grows into a teenager, separated from her family searching for answers as she transfers from work camp to work camp, growing up without a home and not a single familiar face.
While reading the novel All But My Life, I noticed all of the different stories she had experienced and was now re-living but the book seemed to drone on in some parts, dragging out some parts that were very slow. I also wondered if those stories were the full stories, and if she truly remembered the experience. I didn't get a great sense of emotion out of the book as if she was a blank slate while writing it; I would have loved to hear about every emotion as if it was ripping out of the pages onto me and so I could picture the scene as realistically as she had experienced it the first time.
Since the Holocaust is something that amazes me, I love to hear about different stories. This story was one that I had never heard before and it opened up my eyes to so many of the personal battles one faces while in the camps. I thought Weissmann did an awesome job at relaying the stories in order, in other words, it was very easy to follow along her journey. I loved her message of hope and to still fight until your last breath because you can decide your own fate.
If you are a huge Holocaust enthusiast, then I really recommend All But My Life. It was a very captivating story that affected me deeply. It kept my attention, and since I'm not much of a reader, not many books tend to grab me the way this novel did.
Posted November 10, 2009
ALL BUT MY LIFE recounts the story of Gerda Weissmann, a young woman forced into slave labor for the Nazis during the Holocaust. Stripped from her father, mother, and brother, Gerda must endure cruel working conditions, little to no food, and harsh weather as she fights for survival during Nazi Germany in the 1940s. Gerda promised her father that she wouldn't give up and with her mother's last words of "Be Strong", young Gerda keeps going, even when there is no hope left.
The book is divided into three parts. In Part One, we learn of Gerda and her immediate family before the war and during the beginning of the war. They are a family of pure strength and love. I was struck by the intense closeness of her family and cried when they were ripped apart.
In Part Two, we relive Gerda's experiences during her time in the Nazi labor camps, being shuttled from one camp to the next, some better than others. The friendships Gerda is able to make with other girls at camp are heartwarming, yet heart wrenching. How hard it must be to become close to someone who may not be there the next minute, hour, or day? The decisions Gerda makes throughout this period are, at times, unbelievable, yet she survived. I have no doubt that she was meant to live to tell her story and that of her family and friends. What if Gerda had made a different decision at a crucial crossroads?
Finally, in Part Three, we are told of Gerda's life after she was liberated by Lt. Kurt Klein, who becomes her husband. What an incredible love story.
This is a book of inspiration, faith, and hope. It will definitely make one think of problems in a new light. If the human spirit can endure what Gerda did, then we all can survive what is thrown at us, even when it seems like we cannot.
I whole-heartedly recommend this book to everyone. It's phenomenal. I cannot praise it enough. Although it is not an easy book to read, the message it sends is one of hope and strength. We can all survive, we can all make it. Thank you for telling us your story, Mrs. Klein. It is not one I will ever forget. 5+ stars!
This is the amazing and heart-wrenching story of one brave and spirited young Jewish woman's survival of the Holocaust including her imprisonment in slave labor camps and a three month forced march from Germany to Czechoslovakia.
Many of the first hand details of her horrifying experience are unfathomable and difficult to read and absorb; the starvation, physical abuse, murder, death and suffering of so many.
But what is amazing is Gerda's interminable spirit and her dedication to her convictions. She could have done things that may have alleviated some of her suffering but she never compromised her values. There were times it seemed that her choices might bring her to her death.
Also amazing was the fact that she continued to have hope. There were moments when she felt she had lost all hope, but even then she continued to honor the promise she made to her father. At the end, during the death march, she hoped for liberation and continued to encourage her friends to survive. The death march started with 2,000 young women and ended with only 120 survivors. Every morning she would wake to see many who had died during the night.