All But My Life

by: Gerda Weissmann Klein

Important Quotations Explained

1. He looked steadily at me and then answered my thoughts. “Whatever you are thinking now is wrong. It is cowardly.” I couldn’t deny it. He lifted my chin up and looked at me firmly again. “Promise me that no matter what happens you will never do it.”

In Part One, Chapter 5, when Gerda finishes selling the family’s possessions to the neighbors to finalize their move to the ghetto, she recalls hearing of a family that committed suicide together. She half-heartedly wishes that her parents would suggest this. As she is considering the idea, her father walks into the room and forces her to promise to never do it—though neither he nor Gerda specify out loud what “it” is. This scene is the first of two major events during which Gerda’s father gives the impression of omniscience—he knows what she is thinking without her saying a word, and he knows what is best for her. The second instance of her father’s wisdom is when he insists that she wear her ski boots despite the fact that it is summer—a request that ultimately saves her life.

Throughout the book, Gerda gives the impression of her father’s impotence in the face of the Nazis—he cannot save his family or stop what is happening to them. However, this scene makes clear that no matter what the Nazis’ power, Gerda’s father still has the power to save her through small acts such as this one. Once Gerda is sent to the labor camps, she remembers the promise she made to her father, and it motivates her to go on. In the Märzdorf labor camp, where Gerda is working both the day and night shifts, she considers jumping onto the railroad tracks. At that moment, she gets a feeling in her neck that reminds her of how her father had held her head while making her promise to never give up. At that moment, when death seems like the only solution, the memory of this conversation, and of her father’s love for her, gives Gerda the courage to stay alive.


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