Gerda’s maturation takes place gradually throughout All But My Life, under the shadow of the Nazi regime. At the beginning of her memoir, Gerda depicts herself as an innocent and naïve teenager. As she loses her family members one by one, she is forced to become entirely self-reliant, and only then does her resolute spirit truly become apparent. Most notable about Gerda is her ability to remain optimistic in the face of the Holocaust and despite everything, to focus on the positive aspects of her life. This optimism allows Gerda to make her memoir a tale of love and community set against the backdrop of the horrors of the Holocaust, rather than a tale that focuses on the cruelty that she has endured.
Though Gerda encounters almost unbelievable evil during her life, she also witnesses many instances of kindness, though she never becomes sentimental when she describes them. She relates the events as they happen but leaves out a certain element of emotional complexity, which keeps us from getting to know her better. However, the distance that Gerda maintains offers an insight into her character as well. Her inability to attach emotional resonance to the events that she witnesses shows just how damaged she is by the events of the Holocaust. Her insistence on paying homage to the goodness of her peers in the camps epitomizes her belief that bearing witness to what happened is more important than merely telling her own story, and this belief illustrates her unselfish character. Gerda’s personality is typified by her steadfast hope, brave optimism, and willingness to help her comrades despite personal risk.
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