Tuesday, July 27, 2010

All But My Life

All But My Life is often a difficult book to read. The author, Gerda Weissmann Klein, did, in fact, lose everything to the Nazi's except for her life. She lost her family, friends old and new, and her possessions. In the epilogue to this new edition of the memoir, Klein writes: Survival is both an exalted privilege and a painful burden. (p. 247) I can only assume that writing this book and telling her amazing story of survival fulfills the commands of both - by her privilege of survival, Klein has taken on the burden and shared it with others. So that we will better understand the price she and millions of others paid, and to remember.
The book is divided into three almost equal parts. Part One deals mainly with Gerda and her family's experiences during the early years of the war before they were sent to camps. The fear is palpable as the family deals with the Nazi attempts to locate the men of the family. Part Two begins with the family being removed from their home and taken to camps. Gerda describes the last time she sees her mother and father and discusses how she relied on new friends in the camps to stay strong. Part Three deals with the time after liberation. In some ways, although the road forward was difficult, this is a love story. Gerda eventually marries the American who liberated her and helped her regain her health. The details provided in all three parts of the book are achingly true to Klein's memories.

Just one other thought about the book. In many ways the book reminds me of Viktor Frankl's book, Man's Search for Meaning. Frankl speaks of his own Holocaust experiences and concludes that survival was dependent on a number of things, but central to that survival is expressed in the words of Nietzsche, "He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how." This is vividly apparent in the book with a number of people expressing this exact sentiment.

Please do take the time to visit the Gerda and Kurt Klein Foundation. The header at the top of the website states: You alone have the power to eliminate bigotry and hunger. While there are many wonderful links and videos to visit on the site, if you are a teacher or librarian be sure to order your free copy of ONE SURVIVOR REMEMBERS: A Teaching Kit for Grades 8-12. Our library has this kit and it is a fantastic resource telling Gerda's story through a multi-media exploration.

TITLE: All but my Life
AUTHOR: Gerda Weissmann Klein
COPYRIGHT: 1995, expanded edition (originally published in 1957)
PAGES: 261
TYPE: Holocaust memoir
RECOMMEND: The book covers the losses felt by so many young Jews during the Holocaust. With striking detail, life in the camps and death on the forced marches, the author illuminates the past for people in the future.


Charles said...

No event in human history has been studied more thoroughly and carefully than the Holocaust. Thousands of thesis and dissertations papers have poured over millions of documents, from physical evidence and anecdotal testimony to captured German war records. Virtually every PhD in History will stake their career on the fact that millions of Jews (and others) were systematically exterminated by Nazi Germany.

Whenever we stand up to those who deny or minimize genocide we send a critical message to the world. As we continue to live in an age of genocide and ethnic cleansing, we must repel the broken ethics of our ancestors, or risk a dreadful repeat of past transgressions.

Freedom of speech is a symbol of a healthy society. Yet, since no crime in history is as heinous as the Holocaust, its memory must be accurately preserved. We must protect vulnerable future generations from making the same mistakes.

A world that continues to allow genocide requires ethical remediation. We should insist that religious, racial, gender, orientation and ethnic persecution is wrong; and that tolerance is our progeny's only hope. Only through such efforts can we reveal the true horror of genocide and promote the triumphant spirit of humankind.

Charles Weinblatt
Author, Jacob's Courage: A Holocaust Love Story

Julia said...

I read this book in high school and it really stayed with me. I remember afterwords my class writing a letter to her and sending her and her husbands hoodies from our high school. They sent us a picture back wearing them and thanking us.

That connection to her made her story more real to me.