“Pointing toward the silent mountain peaks where Poland’s frontier met German-occupied Czechoslovakia, he continued, ‘From up there disaster is coming at any minute. There is going to be a war, and you are sitting here dressed up, listening to pretty music. Go home, take up arms. Let us stand against the enemy!”
Part one, chapter 4, p. 23
Gerda reports on an incident that took place when she and her family were staying at the resort town of Krynica, southeast of Bielitz, in the summer of 1939. The young man who issues this prophetic warning is taken away by the police and people dismiss him as a maniac.
“From that day on and for many days to come I placed all my hope in religion. I found a new source of strength. Night after night I said my prayers ten and twenty times. I tried to inflict punishment on myself. When my parents were asleep I would get out of bed, crouch on the floor, and sleep there, next to the cold, moist wall.”
Part one, chapter 7, p. 48
Gerda writes of a period in the winter of 1941, when her family is in such difficulty. Her father is ill, and her brother Arthur has been taken away. But when they receive a letter from Arthur their spirits are buoyed. Gerda explains here her frame of mind at the time, hoping that fervent religious belief will aid their cause.
“I ran down to the edge of the brook where I knew I could find violets, and there they were, in their velvety brilliance, fresh, untouched, and fragrant.I picked a bunch and held them tight and then sat down on the moist ground and started to cry.”
Part one, chapter 10, p. 75
Gerda is in the family garden at Bielitz for the last time, in the spring of 1941. They have been told they must move out of their house. She looks at the scene she has known all her life and is filled with sadness. She says farewell to her childhood.
“They faced what the morning would bring with the only weapon they had—their love for each other. Love is great. Love is the foundation of nobility, it conquers obstacles and is a deep well of truth and strength.”
Part one, chapter 12, p. 86
Gerda writes of her parents on the morning they are to be separated. The Nazis have decreed that no Jews must remain in Bielitz. After Gerda’s father gets on the train for Sucha, he and his wife will never see each other again.
“The night was starry and beautiful. From my bunk I could see the hills through a window. Slowly the full moon rose. I spoke dreamily to her. I asked her if she saw Papa and Mama. It seemed as if she said yes. In the years to come the moon became my loyal friend, my only friend that was free. Each month I counted the days until she returned, and often when she hid behind clouds I thought that she was avoiding the horror on earth.”
Part 2, chapter 3, p. 117
Gerda has just arrived at the weaving mill in Bolkenhain, and this is what she thinks of in her first night there. Gerda has always been sensitive to nature, and she sometimes takes comfort from observing the serenity of natural phenomena, which stand in such contrast to her own horrifying situation.
“And there in Bolkenhain on Christmas Day, 1942, when the sun stood high at noon, the snow brilliant at my feet, I heard people outside the gates laughing as they came from church, children jingling gay sleigh bells. And there in the glaring sunlight I suddenly knew that I would never see Arthur again.”
Part 2, chapter 5, p. 131
Gerda has just received a letter from her brother Arthur, just a few lines written on dirty paper, and she knows instinctively that he is not going to survive. The beauty of the winter scene, and the celebrations that are going on, are in marked contrast to the stark news and Gerda’s grim realization that she will not see her brother again.
“She was a good woman. She made the time we spent in her charge as bearable as possible. She displayed humanity, and gave us hope that perhaps not all Germans were cruel.”
Part two, chapter 9, p. 165
This is Gerda’s tribute to Frau Kügler, the Lagerführerin, or camp supervisor, at Bolkenhain. On one occasion Kügler saved Gerda’s life, and she also showed her other kindnesses.
“‘Your spark has not gone out, it never will. You will hurt people but you will make them happy. . . . You are going through mud, but your feet are still clean.’”
Part two, chapter 13, p. 197
These are the words of Tusia, spoken to Gerda at the Helmbrechts camp. Tusia will shortly die.
“‘It seems we fought a war against the Nazis, but I haven’t met a Nazi yet,’ he said wryly.”
Part 3, chapter 2, p. 221
Kurt Klein speaks to Gerda shortly after her liberation. He has just mentioned to her that all the Germans he has talked to were surprised when told about the concentration camps. His comment suggests, however, that he believes they really must have known, and were Nazi supporters, even though they will not now admit it.
“I am awed by the marvel of creation, the mysterious spark in these new lives, which continue the chain of generations stretching back to time immemorial, imbuing it with the divine. To close the gap of what was left uncompleted, to create an existence that was meant to be denied represents a triumph over evil. I realize with wonder and gratitude that in my body reposed some part of shared ancestry with those deprived of life and that I was given the privilege of being a link between generations.”
Epilogue, p. 253
Gerda’s reflections here come many years after her experiences during World War II. They are sparked by her contemplation of her children and grandchildren.