All But My Life : Summary Chapter 12

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Chapter 12

In May, the Jews in the Bielitzghetto are told they must register for work or be sent to Auschwitz, which is only twenty miles away. Papa is told he is to work on fortifying a river in Sucha, a two-hour train ride away. He gets up at four every morning to make the trip, since he must be there at seven. Mama and Gerda have to work in a shop that sells military garments, about the same distance away. After a while Mama is not needed because they have enough workers. Gerda actually enjoys the work and the train ride. The family feels safer than they have done for some while, since they are part of the workforce now, even though the wages are very small.

In June, Gerda takes a walk with Abek, and they go into the forest. He kisses her and wants her reassurance that she will marry him, but she stays silent.

Then comes a big change. The Nazis have decreed that Bielitz is to be cleared of Jews. Papa must move to Sucha, where a camp is being set up, and Mama and Gerda must move to Wadowitz. Mama and Gerda accompany Papa to the train station early in the morning. It is the last time Gerda will see her father.

The next day, Gerda and Mama are among the Jews who assemble in a field. They wait in the rain for four hours before trucks come and take some of them away. The others, including Gerda and Mama, are marched to the train station. They are then separated. Mama is among those led into a barbed wire enclosure, while Gerda is put into another group. A truck comes and they all get into it. Gerda screams that she wants to be with her mother, and she jumps down from the truck. But Merin, a Jewish leader who works with the SS, throws her back onto the truck, telling her she is too young to die.


This is the last time Gerda sees her parents. The family will never be reunited. Now she is on her own, but in the difficult times that are to follow, she will be sustained by her memory of the deep love that her father and mother shared.

Many of the characters mentioned in the novel, including Gerda’s friends, such as Abek and Llse, and those she will encounter later, are lost to history; little is known of them other than what Weissmann Klein records in her memoir. Moshe Merin, however, whom Gerda encounters in this chapter, is a known historical figure. Nazi practice was to appoint a Jew as head of the Jewish community who would do their bidding. Gerda took an instant dislike to Merin, based on what she had heard about him, “that he lived in luxury, that he had visited Goebbels, that he was the only Jew to own a car, that he was indescribably wealthy.”  The truth about Merin may be a little more complex—by throwing Gerda back onto the truck he actually saves her life—although he was certainly a controversial figure. Born in 1905, Merin, according to the Wikipedia entry for him, was the head of the Jewish Community Council in the Sosnowitz ghetto. He was selected for the position because he spoke German fluently. He is often regarded as a Nazi collaborator but he claimed that he saved all the Jews he could. He is believed to have died at Auschwitz in 1943. 

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