Gerda Weissmann Klein
Gerda Weissmann Klein is an author, humanitarian, historian, inspirational speaker , naturalized citizen and Holocaust survivor. For over six decades she has captivated audiences worldwide with her powerful message of hope, inspiration, love and humanity . In her speeches and books, she draws from her wealth of life experiences: from surviving the Holocaust and meeting her future husband on the day of her liberation, to her journey to the United States, accepting an Academy Award and Emmy for a documentary based on her life, and her constant fight to promote tolerance, encourage community service and combat hunger.

Early life

Gerda Weissmann Klein was born in Bielsko
Bielsko was until 1950 an independent town situated in Cieszyn Silesia, Poland. In 1951 it was joined with Biała Krakowska to form the new town of Bielsko-Biała. Bielsko constitutes the western part of that town....

, Poland. She describes her early days of life as happy and tranquil. Her parents, Julius and Helene, provided a comfortable middle class life for her and her older brother, Arthur. Gerda grew up idolizing Arthur, whom she describes as a popular and gifted student.

Life under the Nazis

On September 3, 1939 fifteen year-old Gerda's life changed forever as German troops invaded her home in Bielsko, Poland. Shortly after the invasion began, the family received a telegram from Gerda's uncle saying that the Germans were advancing quickly and the family should leave Poland immediately. However, Gerda's father had just suffered a myocardial infarction heart attack, and doctors advised that he not be moved or subjected to undue stress. Julius Weissmann ordered his children to flee Poland without him, but they refused.

When the invasion ended, Gerda and her family watched in disbelief as people whom they had considered friends began flying the Nazi flag and using the Hitler salute. In mid-October, Arthur received a letter from the Germans. As a male between sixteen and fifty, Arthur was required to register for the army. On October 18, 1939, Arthur complied with the summons and he never saw his family again.

Gerda and her parents were forced to live in the basement of their home and later in a Jewish ghetto. In 1942, Gerda was separated from both her parents, who were probably sent to Auschwitz, a death camp (it is not certain as to what exactly happened to her mother and father); she was sent to the Dulag (Durchgangslager, a transit camp). Later on, she was sent to labor camps in Sosnowitz, Bolkenhain, Märzdorf, Landeshut and Gruenberg; Bolkenhain being the most benign camp and Märzdorf being the worst one. On January 29, 1945, Gerda was among 4000 women who began the 350-mile death march
Death marches (Holocaust)
The death marches refer to the forcible movement between Autumn 1944 and late April 1945 by Nazi Germany of thousands of prisoners from German concentration camps near the war front to camps inside Germany.-General:...

 to avoid the advance of the Allied forces. The forced journey went through Dresden, Chemnitz, Zwickau, Reichenbach, Plauen, Germany and on through Volary
Volary is a town in South Bohemian Region, Czech Republic. It is located at around , in the Šumava Mountains, close to the border with Germany. In 1946 the German population of the town was expelled and deported by Czech forces on the grounds of the Beneš decrees....

 (in what is now the Czech Republic), and she was one of fewer than 120 women who survived exposure to the winter elements, starvation, and arbitrary execution. Despite such atrocities, Gerda never lost the will to live.


In May 1945, Gerda was liberated by forces of the United States Army
United States Army
The United States Army is the main branch of the United States Armed Forces responsible for land-based military operations. It is the largest and oldest established branch of the U.S. military, and is one of seven U.S. uniformed services...

 in Volary
Volary is a town in South Bohemian Region, Czech Republic. It is located at around , in the Šumava Mountains, close to the border with Germany. In 1946 the German population of the town was expelled and deported by Czech forces on the grounds of the Beneš decrees....

, Czechoslovakia; these forces included Lieutenant Kurt Klein, who was born in Germany and immigrated to the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 to escape Nazism. Both of his parents had been killed by the Nazis at Auschwitz. The two fell in love and became engaged in September 1945.

Life after the War

In 1946 Gerda and Kurt Klein were married in Paris, France. They settled in Buffalo, New York
Buffalo, New York
Buffalo is the second most populous city in the state of New York, after New York City. Located in Western New York on the eastern shores of Lake Erie and at the head of the Niagara River across from Fort Erie, Ontario, Buffalo is the seat of Erie County and the principal city of the...

 and had three children and eight grandchildren. Gerda became involved with several local and national charities and soon began to speak about her experiences during the war. Gerda’s account of her experience is documented in her classic autobiography, All But My Life, which has been in print for 54 years, published in 63 editions, and used in high schools and colleges around the world. It is the foundation for the Oscar and Emmy-winning HBO documentary, One Survivor Remembers
One Survivor Remembers
One Survivor Remembers is a 1995 documentary short film by Kary Antholis in which Holocaust survivor Gerda Weissmann Klein recounts her six-year ordeal as a victim of Nazi cruelty, including the loss of her parents, brother, friends, home, possessions, and community.A production of HBO and the...


One of the most remarkable chapters in Klein’s life began when her future husband, Kurt Klein, a U. S. Army intelligence officer—and himself a refugee from Germany—liberated her on May 7, 1945. Klein, white-haired and 68 pounds, was one day shy of her 21st birthday. Their story of meeting and life together has been featured on numerous television shows including Oprah, 60 Minutes
60 Minutes
60 Minutes is an American television news magazine, which has run on CBS since 1968. The program was created by producer Don Hewitt who set it apart by using a unique style of reporter-centered investigation....

 and CBS Sunday Morning. A book of their letters, The Hours After, is a poignant collection of correspondence between Gerda and Kurt Klein following the war.

Awards and recognition

The Kleins’ story is also portrayed in the film Testimony, a permanent exhibit at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. In 1997, President Bill Clinton
Bill Clinton
William Jefferson "Bill" Clinton is an American politician who served as the 42nd President of the United States from 1993 to 2001. Inaugurated at age 46, he was the third-youngest president. He took office at the end of the Cold War, and was the first president of the baby boomer generation...

 appointed Gerda Klein to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Governing Council. In 2007, the museum bestowed Klein with its highest honor at The Arizona Biltmore before 1,000 guests.

On February 15, 2011 at 1:40 pm EST in the East Room of the White House, President Barack Obama presented Gerda Weissmann Klein, along with 14 other recipients, with the 2010 Presidential Medal of Freedom
Presidential Medal of Freedom
The Presidential Medal of Freedom is an award bestowed by the President of the United States and is—along with thecomparable Congressional Gold Medal bestowed by an act of U.S. Congress—the highest civilian award in the United States...

. President Obama announced, "This year’s Medal of Freedom recipients reveal the best of who we are and who we aspire to be." President Obama read the following as Gerda was presented with her Presidential Medal of Freedom, "By the time she was 21, Gerda Klein had spent six years living under Nazi rule -- three of them in concentration camps. Her parents and brother had been taken away. Her best friend had died in her arms during a 350-mile death march. And she weighed only 68 pounds when she was found by American forces in an abandoned bicycle factory. But Gerda survived. She married the soldier who rescued her. And ever since -- as an author, a historian and a crusader for tolerance -- she has taught the world that it is often in our most hopeless moments that we discover the extent of our strength and the depth of our love." Then President Obama read a statement from Gerda which read “I pray you never stand at any crossroads in your own lives,” she says, “but if you do, if the darkness seems so total, if you think there is no way out, remember, never ever give up.”

In recognition of her international reputation and her inspiring message, Gerda was selected to be the keynote speaker at the United Nations
United Nations
The United Nations is an international organization whose stated aims are facilitating cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights, and achievement of world peace...

 First Annual Official Observance of the Holocaust in January 2006. She has spoken to school children in each of the 50 United States and the District of Columbia and has traveled the world to spread her message of tolerance and hope, meeting with world leaders, including Golda Meir
Golda Meir
Golda Meir ; May 3, 1898 – December 8, 1978) was a teacher, kibbutznik and politician who became the fourth Prime Minister of the State of Israel....

 and Menachem Begin
Menachem Begin
' was a politician, founder of Likud and the sixth Prime Minister of the State of Israel. Before independence, he was the leader of the Zionist militant group Irgun, the Revisionist breakaway from the larger Jewish paramilitary organization Haganah. He proclaimed a revolt, on 1 February 1944,...

, as well as Eleanor Roosevelt
Eleanor Roosevelt
Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was the First Lady of the United States from 1933 to 1945. She supported the New Deal policies of her husband, distant cousin Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and became an advocate for civil rights. After her husband's death in 1945, Roosevelt continued to be an international...

 and U.S. Presidents Harry Truman, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush
George W. Bush
George Walker Bush is an American politician who served as the 43rd President of the United States, from 2001 to 2009. Before that, he was the 46th Governor of Texas, having served from 1995 to 2000....

. In 1996, Klein was one of five women to receive the prestigious international Lion of Judah award in Jerusalem. She has also been featured on the cover of the McDougal-Littell high school textbook, The Americans, alongside such other notable figures as Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin Delano Roosevelt , also known by his initials, FDR, was the 32nd President of the United States and a central figure in world events during the mid-20th century, leading the United States during a time of worldwide economic crisis and world war...

, Martin Luther King Jr., Ronald Reagan
Ronald Reagan
Ronald Wilson Reagan was the 40th President of the United States , the 33rd Governor of California and, prior to that, a radio, film and television actor....

, and General Norman Schwartzkopf.

In May of 2001, Chapman University
Chapman University
Chapman University is a private, non-profit university located in Orange, California affiliated with the Christian Church . Known for its blend of liberal arts and professional programs, Chapman University encompasses seven schools and colleges: Lawrence and Kristina Dodge College of Film and Media...

 awarded Kurt Klein and Gerda Weissmann Klein an honorary doctorate of humane letters, the only married couple to be so honored by the university. Gerda has spoken at Chapman University several times, most recently in November of 2011.

In 2008, Gerda founded Citizenship Counts
Citizenship Counts
Citizenship Counts is a non-partisan 501 organization based in Arizona that is dedicated to inspiring American youth with a civic education curriculum that teaches them the value and responsibilities of citizenship, promotes pride in American citizenship, and encourages students to be involved in...

, a national nonprofit organization whose mission is to educate students on the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, inspire their pride in America and encourage them to participate in community service. Citizenship Counts empowers young people to be responsible, participatory and socially-just citizens who appreciate the benefits of living in a diverse, inclusive, democratic country. Its multi-disciplinary core curriculum provides middle and high students across the country a unique opportunity to plan for and host a community-based naturalization ceremony in their school setting. The vision of Citizenship Counts is to create a well-informed, responsible citizenry of individuals who are motivated to participate in both local and national community service. Gerda’s wish is that this organization will serve as her legacy and that its efforts will give her an opportunity to give back and thank the United States of America for all that she has been given over the years since she became a naturalized citizen in 1948. Her passion for the mission of Citizenship Counts is best expressed in her own words:
"America is a unique, diverse and wondrous country, comprised both of those who know its magnificence as their birthright, and others, like me, who are privileged to call our adopted country ‘our own.’ What we all share is a desire for our families to enjoy America’s boundless opportunities while extending to all our fellow citizens justice and the blessings and freedoms upon which the nation was founded.

To perpetuate the miracle that is America we must teach our children about its rich history as a nation of immigrants who chose this country and have given meaning to its ideals.

Citizenship Counts will engage today’s students in civics education, combined with active participation in a naturalization ceremony, to help ensure that the citizens of tomorrow will continue to foster tolerance, understanding, service to one another and a greater appreciation for the privilege and responsibility of citizenship.”


Books by Gerda Weissmann Klein include:
  • All But My Life (1957)
  • The Blue Rose (1974)
  • A Boring Evening At Home
  • The Hours After: Letters of Love and Longing in War's Aftermath (2001, co-written with Kurt Klein)
  • A Passion for Sharing: The Life of Edith Rosenwald Stern (1984)
  • Promise of a New Spring
  • Peregrinations: Adventures with the Green Parrot (1986)
  • One Raspberry (2010)
  • The Wings of Epoh

External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.