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All But My Life

Gerda Weissmann Klein

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Flowers

Gerda mentions flowers dozens of times in her memoir: roses, buttercups, daisies, lilacs, tulips, and violets. These references often point to the beauty of nature and the goodness of which the world is capable. Flowers are also important symbols for the memories of home that sustain her during her ordeal. When Kurt brings Gerda lilies-of-the-valley early in their courtship, he brings her to tears by reminding her of her childhood garden. To keep hope alive during her time in the camps, she often recalls images of flowers. She uses the beauty of these images to underscore all that she has lost in the war and to remind herself that, despite what she has endured, the world is still capable of producing beauty and inspiring hope.

Shoes

In the world of the Holocaust, shoes represent the difference between life and death. Many times in her memoir, Gerda says she believes that the fact that her father insisted she wear her skiing shoes before she left for the camps saved her life. She sleeps curled around her shoes on the death march, to protect them from the shoeless girls who would otherwise steal them during the night, for those who are properly shod have the best chance of surviving. She writes of seeing a girl break off her own toes after they become thoroughly frozen, and of other girls who leave bloody trails in the snow when they walk. Gerda keeps poison in her shoe as well, to be used as a last resort. Her shoes not only have the power to assure her survival—they also contain the means of her death, if she so chooses.

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Gerda’s conscientiousness in detailing the full names and fates of her fellow prisoners is an example of which theme?
The beauty of nature
Morality as choice
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