Last Updated on May 31, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 367
All But My Life is a no-holds-barred account of Gerda Weissman Klein's ordeal during the Holocaust. Reissued in 1995 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, the memoir recounts Klein's internment in a labor camp for three years as well as her liberation by an American soldier.
A Polish Jew, Gerda Weissman was born in Bielsko, Poland, in 1924. She and her family lived comfortably until the Nazis marched into Poland in September of 1939. Although they were allowed to live in their basement once the Nazi occupation started, after a while they were separated and deported to different labor and death camps. Gerda was imprisoned in Marzdorf, Landshut, and Gruenburg. By the end of the war, Gerda had lost her mother, father, brother, and other family members and friends to Nazi brutality. Klein masks nothing in her gut-wrenching description of the events and conditions she endured.
In May of 1945, American troops liberated the camp in Czechoslovakia where Gerda was imprisoned. She stood in the door of the barracks where she lived and was approached by an American soldier who asked if anyone spoke English or German. Gerda told him that she spoke German, but she also confessed that she and the rest of the women in her barracks were Jewish. After a long pause, the soldier informed her that he, too, was a Jew. The soldier asked Gerda if he could see "the other ladies." This simple request was stunning to Gerda, whose hair was prematurely white and who was also emaciated, weighing in at 68 pounds; she realized that she had not been called a lady in more than six years. In a remarkable and unexpected twist of fate, Gerda Weissman married Kurt Klein, the American soldier who liberated her.
In spite of the horrors that the victims endured, Klein paints a picture of friendship, support, and humanity that existed among the prisoners. She even describes the unexpected kindness displayed by a Nazi guard, Frau Kuegler, toward her and the other prisoners.
Gerda immigrated to the United States in 1946 where she has lived ever since. All But My Life served as the basis for the Emmy Award-winning HBO documentary One Survivor Remembers and for the Academy Award-winning short subject documentary in 1995.
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