2. “I hope you will never be disillusioned. To you, life still means beauty, and that is how it should be. Continue to go through mud without dirtying your feet.” She spoke without explanation or introduction and without finishing, and then she stalked away towards our quarters.
In Part Two, Chapter 5, Tusia says this to Gerda while they are in Bolkenhain together. Tusia’s words in the book have a prophetic tone, particularly when she gives a similarly worded outburst in a fit of madness immediately before her death at Helmbrechts. Despite Tusia’s apparent lunacy, her words are largely accurate. The idea that cruelty can breed cruelty is reflected in Gerda’s descriptions of the girls in the camp who steal one another’s shoes, and the girl who betrays her fellow inmates by having an affair with an SS guard. However, these are behaviors that Gerda would never exhibit, and her reaction to the brutality she is forced to endure provokes quite the opposite reaction in her. If anything, Gerda becomes more dedicated to remaining kind and generous. The Nazis may destroy her body, but she refuses to let them consume her soul.
The slave labor camps and the death march are the mud that Gerda is going through, both literally and figuratively, yet despite the hunger and deprivation that she must suffer in order to survive, she continues to treat her peers with respect and dignity, thus not “dirtying her feet.” Although Gerda recognizes the viciousness that is possible in humankind and that which she sees in the Nazis, she also stops to notice the beauty that exists in nature and in the hearts of the other girls in the camps. Her memoir focuses more on the friendships that she manages to develop in the camps than on the harsh treatment that the girls endure. Although the title of Gerda’s book, All But My Life, describes what the Nazis have taken from her, she also succeeds at holding onto her own humanity, no matter what the circumstances.