All but my life was Gerda Weissmann Klein‘s first book – the unforgettable recount of Gerda’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.
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On the hot June day that Gerda Weissmann left her home for the last time, her father insisted that she wear her hiking boots. Gerda resisted, but an unspoken plea in her father’s eye convinced her to strap them on. During a death march from January through April of 1945, those boots saved Gerda Weissmann’s life. Many other women died of cold and starvation, but most fell for simple lack of footwear. Her camp sister, with whom she survived the worst horrors in several concentration and slave labor camps, died of exhaustion at a water pump minutes after American liberators freed the women from the march.
Ms. Klein’s tale about her boots, screened at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, led me to her book. I wanted to know every detail — although, over the years, I have been privileged to hear many personal accounts from Holocaust survivors I know. Too many still cannot not speak about what they lived through. Millions never had the chance at all. By itself, the silence of the majority makes Ms. Klein’s testimony priceless, like every other personal Holocaust chronicle. So does her reminder not to take anything for granted. So does her gem of a soul.
— Alyssa A. Lappen