Friday, February 1, 2013

All But My Life: A Memoir – Gerda Weissmann Klein

SummaryAll But My Life is the unforgettable story of Gerda Weissmann Klein's six-year ordeal as a victim of Nazi cruelty. From her comfortable home in Bielitz (present-day Bielsko) in Poland to her miraculous survival and her liberation by American troops--including the man who was to become her husband--in Volary, Czechoslovakia, in 1945, Gerda takes the reader on a terrifying journey.

Gerda's serene and idyllic childhood is shattered when Nazis march into Poland on September 3, 1939. Although the Weissmanns were permitted to live for a while in the basement of their home, they were 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, Klein conveys great strength of spirit and faith in humanity. In the darkness of the camps, Gerda and her young friends manage to create a community of friendship and love. Although stripped of the essence of life, they were able to survive the barbarity of their captors. Gerda's beautifully written story gives an invaluable message to everyone. It introduces them to last century's terrible history of devastation and prejudice, yet offers them hope that the effects of hatred can be overcome.  (Image and summary from

My Review:  Klein has written a wonderful memoir of her time during World War II.  Compared to most, she was quite lucky, having the opportunity to work in a factory with kind and sympathetic supervisors until near the end of the war.  It was wonderful to read about her experiences: her willingness to fight for her happiness, her searching for humor, and her desire to continue living.  She was forthright and honest about those she came into contact with, and it was so nice to read about those good-doers she came into contact with. 

This IS a Holocaust memoir, and Klein had her share of suffering, of starvation, and of watching her friends and loved ones perish at the hands of the Nazis, but it has a happy ending.  She talks about her life after liberation, of how she found ways to overcome what she endured and how she was able to find purpose.  I have an overwhelming love for the German people, and it was so heartening to know that many of the Germans that Klein knew were as wonderful and as kind to her as I knew them to be, despite the risks of showing kindness to the Jewish prisoners.

My Rating:  4 stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  It is a Holocaust novel.  She recounts witnessing massacres, beatings, and the ever-present starvation.

Sum it Up:  A Holocaust memoir detailing one teenager’s fight for survival through the horrors of German-occupied Poland.

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