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All But My Life by Gerda Weissmann Klein

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Ellise Shafer

on 10 May 2013

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Transcript of All But My Life by Gerda Weissmann Klein

Major Themes, Symbols and Motifs in All But My Life by Gerda Weissmann Klein Presentation by Ellise Shafer Chance Shoes as a Symbol of Life and Death 3 Major Themes and Motifs seen in this memoir are... Hope and its connection to surviving The Holocaust Hope is a huge theme in Klein's memoir, as it is truly what helps her survive The Holocaust. Despite all the horrible things she is put through (i.e, losing her family, being sent to several work camps, and going on a death march), she never loses hope, and believes that all of the pain she is feeling will soon be redeemed with immense joy. It is this belief that keeps her alive; although she is not extremely religious. For example, after the death march, the girls are divided into columns. Klein recalls seeing girls switching from column to column, hoping to be liberated first. However, she believes that "had I been part of it my fate would have been different. Less suffering, yes, but less happiness, too, I am sure" (Klein 182). This quote also reflects on how if it were not for the Holocaust and the hospital her group was liberated to, she would not have met her husband. In any example of Holocaust literature, chance usually plays a very key role in the character's survival. This proves true in Gerda Weissmann Klein's memoir as well. Although her escapes from death are plentiful, Klein always seems to be grateful for her luck and never thinks of herself as more superior because of it. Examples of the motif of chance in All But My Life are as follows: Shoes are seen as the difference between life and death in All But My Life, especially during the death march. Major Theme Motif: a distinctive feature or dominant idea in an artistic or literary composition Her father's insistence for her to take her ski boots with her to the camps: "I wonder why Papa insisted; how could he he possibly have known? Those shoes played a vital part in saving my life. They were sturdy and strong, and when three years later they were taken off my frozen feet, they were good still..." (Klein 86). Ilse's decision to back out of their escape plan- after seeing 14 girls shot in front of them for attempting to get away- "We marched on. At that moment I vowed that I would never try to escape, never take our lives in my hands, never step off the path that was leading us to death" (Klein 191). Before the camps, she is caught studying English, but the police officer lets her go:
"The officer laid down my book. Then he looked at the policeman and said, 'This is a terrible crime. It is almost espionage to learn English while we are at war with England. The punishment will be meted out accordingly.' There was a lump in my throat. I wanted to say so many things, to plead, but I was unable to speak. 'I have to give it a few minutes' thought,' he announced. Then, turning to the policeman, he thanked him for his good work and sent him back to his patrol. As soon as the policeman left, the bald officer turned to me. His voice softened to a more human tone. 'Now run home as fast as you can,' he said, 'and forget your English'" (Klein 50). Her parent's love also gives her hope throughout the camps and Death March: "Love is great, love is the foundation of nobility, it conquers obstacles and is a deep well of truth and strength. After hearing my parents talk that night I began to understand the greatness of their love. Their courage ignited within me a spark that continued to glow through the years of misery and defeat. The memory of their love- my only legacy-sustained me in happy and unhappy times" (Klein 86). Gerda often cites the ski boots her father gave her as the very reason for her survival. She is able to keep several items in them, as well- family pictures, and even poison. The fact that she stores poison in her boots tells the reader that the boots held both her life and her death, if circumstances would require it. "Papa, Papa, how could he possibly have known. The boots were still in good shape, and I had precious things hidden in them: snapshots of Papa, Mama, Arthur, and Abek, wrapped in a piece of cloth, and the packet of poison" (Klein 182). Girls without shoes, however, seemed to die quicker: "Some of them were barefoot, others wore crude wooden clogs. Many of them left a bloody trail in the fresh snow"(Klein 182). Klein describes these girls as "drawings of Death when, winged and garbed in loose sheets, he comes to collect the living" (Klein 182). Other girls stole shoes to save themselves: "Many of the Hungarian girls had no shoes. To save their lives they stole shoes off the feet of those who slept" (Klein 183). The fact that having shoes was the only thing keeping them alive furthers the symbolism. Klein also witnesses another girl break off her own frozen toes: "Hundreds of girls had frozen feet, bloody and full of pus. I saw one girl break off her own toes as though they were brittle wood" (Klein 191). Works Cited
Klein, Gerda Weissmann. All But My Life. New York: Hill and Wang, 1957. Print.
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