All But My Life, one of the first post-war Holocaust memoirs to have been published, is a book often assigned by high school teachers to students studying the Holocaust because of its embedded history and its lucid, moving prose. It has a lot to offer readers of all ages.
Gerda Weismann was born in 1924 into a middle class family who lived in the prosperous Polish town of Bielitz. Because her father, who was part owner of a factory, suffered from a heart condition, she and her parents and her older brother Arthur were still in Bielitz in the fall of 1939 after many other Jewish families had run ahead of the invading Germans.
Part I of this three-part memoir starts with the author's early privileged life at home in their house which is where her mother had been raised. Once the Germans occupied their town, their lives were restricted: Jews had to give up items like autos, bicycles and radios, then they were forced to wear arm bands, then her family was ordered to move out of the main house into a two-room apartment in the cellar. The worst blow was when her able-bodied brother Arthur was ordered to board a train. Part I ends in 1943 when, after the family members were separated and sent to different locations. Eighteen-year-old Gerda was alone and did not know what was in store for any of them.
In Part II we travel with Gerda as she was moved from one labor camp to the next. An early move to the Kramsa labor camp in Bolkenhaim was fortunate because there she was taught to weave on a loom and although it was very difficult work that required her and the other girls to stand on their feet all day and inhale textile particles that damaged their lungs, the living conditions were not terrible. They had enough to eat and good enough sleeping quarters. But as the war progressed conditions deteriorated and eventually there was no more raw material to work on, the looms were silenced, and she and the other inmates were moved from camp to camp. In the war's final months she and the girls who were still alive were forced on a 350-mile death march. The author and her fellow survivors ended up in Vovary, Czechoslovakia where the Germans abandoned them and they were liberated.
Part III deals with her recovery and her future. At the time of her liberation she weighed 68 pounds and was hospitalized for many months. She had to re-learn how to walk, how to live, whom to trust, what it meant to be free. When she was liberated she met an American soldier, Kurt Klein who helped her through her rehabilitation. They married and he brought her to America.
In the 1995 revised edition Weissmann includes an epilogue which brings us up to date. She tells us that she and her husband settled in Buffalo, had three children and eight grandchildren. In Buffalo she volunteered with the Jewish Federation and Hadassah and early on she started speaking about her Holocaust experience to both children and adults. Eventually she and her husband moved to Arizona where she was still intent on giving back, of showing her appreciation for the life she was given in the United States.
This memoir includes family photos.
To see and hear Gerda Weissmann talk in November, 2010 about her being chosen to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, click here.
Helene Muckenbrunn – daughter of Julie; married Julius Weissmann
Gerda Weissmann – daughter of Julius and Helene; marries Kurt Klein; author
Vivian Klein – daughter of Gerda and Kurt; married Jim Ullman
Alysa, Andrew and Lindsay Ullman – Vivian and Jim’s children
Leslie Klein – daughter of Gerda and Kurt- married Roger Simon
Julie, Melissa, Jessica Simon – Leslie and Roger’s children
Jim Klein – son of Gerda and Kurt- married Lynn
Jennifer and Alexa Klein – Jim and Lynn’s children
Arthur Weissmann – son of Julius and Helene
Leo Muckenbrunn – son of Julie
Anna Weissman – Julius’ sister; married to Aaron
Miriam and David – Anna’s children
Ludwig and Alice Klein – Kurt’s parents
Barbara – Kurt’s niece
Friends and Acquaintances
Paula and Lola Feignblatt – Abek’s sisters
Lonek – nephew of Abek, Paula, Lola
Kitty Kleinzahler – Ilse’s sister
Herta Teichner – Gretel’s sister
Kramsta Labor Camp, Bolkenhain
Buffalo, New York