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Amy's Letter to Gerda Weissmann Klein
By Amy Vander Zwaag
Genre: Non-fiction Level: Junior 7-9
Year: 2001 Category: Letters About Literature

Dear Mrs. Gerda Weissmann Klein,

All But My Life is the most moving book that I have read. As I read, I felt as if I were with you -- that we were side by side -- working together, crying together, praying together. I felt my body ache in the factory when yours did. I braced myself each time you were hit. I cried when you were finally liberated.

I have read history books in school, memorized dates, and studied pictures, but the atrocities of war have never seemed real to me. When I left my history classes, those black and white images stayed on the television screen and in the pages of my books. They never left the classroom with me. I always returned to my privileged life where my biggest worry was a Biology test or perhaps a boy. I always told myself that the men in the movies were well-paid actors who never got hurt. The real soldiers and innocent victims of war never had faces to me. They were names, statistics and stories of incredible bravery, but that was it. I never thought about the atrocities I read of. I never thought about women and children who were beaten and killed. I never thought about the families literally torn apart. The atrocities were never real to me. But your book forced me to believe my history books, and I want to thank you for that. Your book helped me to link faces to those names and fill in the blanks of those pictures in my head. You gave faces to children who were torn from their mothers and fathers. The atrocities became real.

I want to thank you for your testimony and for sharing your story. I want to thank you for writing so openly and honestly. Because of your book I have truly thought about war, and I have cried. I cried for your family and friends, and then I cried with thankfulness because I have been so fortunate.

Your book also made me thankful for all my blessings and for the freedoms I have in this country. All But My Life made me thankful for my family and friends. It made me thankful for my ability to go to church every Sunday. It made me thankful for safety to do something as simple as walking down the street.

Lastly, your book put my little problems into perspective. When I am pouting about a bad grade, I think of how fortunate I am that I know where my next meal will be and that I will see my parents' faces when I get home from school. When a nasty rumor is spread, I must remember that I will always have a warm house and a family who is there for me. These thoughts humble me and show me that my problems are not as big as I first thought.

All But My Life made me think about war, the blessings I have, and put my worries in perspective. There is no way I can repay what you have given me. All I can do is say, "Thank You."

Amy Vander Zwaag
9th Grade
Delta High School, Delta Junction, Alaska
Teacher: Sandra Schultz


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