Thursday, August 16

All But My Life

Working for Mark has the added benefit of exposing me to books that I'm interested in reading, but I just never knew it. For instance, the other day we sold a copy of All But My Life, the story of Holocaust survivor Gerda Weissmann Klein. I promptly went to the library and checked it out. In my own defense, I have to say that this isn't a morbid fascination with the Holocaust. But rather it stems from two things. The first is the realization that for everyone writing these books, it was not a short season of sadness or hardship but a long season that they never forget or live without an awareness of, unlike most of us. Second, each story is valuable because each life is valuable. If everyone in life has a story to tell, how much more do these survivors have to tell. And so no matter how many Holocaust memoirs I read, I never find them boring or predictable. Eric jokes, "You are unique - just like everyone else." It's meant to be a joke, yet it still rings true.

All But My Life had some especially "unique" aspects that touched me. After being separated from her brother, her father, and finally her mother, Gerda spent years in Nazi work camps enduring depravation and abuse. At the end of the war when the liberation troops came through, she encountered an American soldier walking to the barracks where she and the other girls had camped out because they were unsure of where to go next.

"Shaking my head, I stared at this man who was to me the embodiment of all heroism and liberty. He greeted me. I must tell him from the start, I resolved, so that he has no illusions about us. Perhaps I had acquired a feeling of shame. After all, for six long years the Nazis had tried to demean us.
'May I see the other ladies?' he asked.
'Ladies!' my brain repeated. He probably doesn't know, I thought. I must tell him.
'We are Jews,' I said in a small voice.
'So am I,' he answered. Was there a catch in his voice, or did I imagine it?
I could have embraced him but I was aware how dirty and repulsive I must be.
'Won't you come with me?' he asked. He held the door open. I didn't understand at first. I looked at him questioningly but not a muscle of his face moved. He wanted me to feel that he had not seen the dirt or the lice. He saw a lady and I shall be forever grateful to him for his graciousness."

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