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Book Review: “All But My Life” by Gerda Weissmann Klein

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"Klein’s 'All But My Life' is a magnificent, ultimately empowering read and an essential piece of literature..."

Victoria Gong

Victoria Gong

"Klein’s 'All But My Life' is a magnificent, ultimately empowering read and an essential piece of literature..."

Victoria Gong, Copy Editor

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In Ms. Julie Heintz’s University U.S. History class, we recently finished a chapter on World War II, during which we watched a prize-winning documentary on Gerda Weissmann Klein, who was a Jewish teenage girl living in Poland at the time of the Holocaust. Through the 45-minute long movie, I was drawn to Mrs. Klein’s composure and grace; she had a magnetic way of speaking, of making herself the most important person in the world in the least arrogant way possible. When the documentary ended, I borrowed her memoir, “All But My Life,” from Ms. Heintz’s single-shelved library.

In Klein’s memoir about her experiences during World War II, her voice stands out as clearly as if she were speaking. There’s even a sort of lilt to how Klein weaves together her written words; you can faintly distinguish her accent in the way she describes her living room, her brother, gunfire, loss and grief. The images she builds are stark, cleanly etched outlines in freshly-fallen snow. There’s nothing messy about this memoir, even though it begins to darken on the first page and gradually tumbles into an abyss of pent-up grief and gruesome scenes of violence. It’s elegant, even, but that elegancy comes from the most unexpected places, from the oppression, the description of the blue, then yellow, stars that shine grimly from white sleeves and Gerda’s mother’s wails at the loss of her son, from the darkest sides of human nature.

Klein’s “All But My Life is a magnificent, ultimately empowering read and an essential piece of literature that soars across continents and cultural boundaries and delves straight into your heart. If you’re looking for a book to transform your perspective or makes you question mortality while submerging yourself in beautiful yet horrific language, then take this memoir from its lonely place on Ms. Heintz’s shelf and transport yourself into its lyrical pages.

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