Tuesday, October 1, 2013
Topic > One Survivor Remembers
Gerda Weissmann Klein is a Polish-born American writer and human rights activist. Her autobiographical account of the Holocaust, All but My Life (1957), was adapted for the 1995 short film, One Survivor Remembers, which received an Academy Award and an Emmy Award, and was selected for the National Film Registry in 2012. She met her husband Kurt Klein (1920–2002) on May 7, 1945, when as a lieutenant with the U.S. Army’s 5th Infantry Division he liberated her and others from Nazi captivity. Married in 1946, the Kleins became tireless advocates of Holocaust education and human rights, founding the Gerda and Kurt Klein Foundation to promote tolerance, respect and empowerment of students through education and community service.
A naturalized U.S. citizen, Gerda Weissmann Klein also founded Citizenship Counts, a nonprofit organization that champions the value and responsibilities of American citizenship. She has served on the governing board of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, which features her testimony in a permanent exhibit. In a White House ceremony February 15, 2011, Klein was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States.
In 1939, 15-year-old Gerda Weissmann’s life changed forever as German troops invaded her home in Bielsko, Poland. After being forced to live in the basement of her childhood home for nearly three years, Gerda was separated from her parents, who were separately sent to Auschwitz. She spent the next three years in a succession of labor camps. As World War II was drawing to a close, the inmates of Gerda's work camp were sent on a five-month, 350-mile death march under SS guard to avoid the advance of Allied forces. Of the more than 2,000 women subjected to exposure, starvation and arbitrary execution, fewer than 120 were alive when they were found by American soldiers, abandoned and left to die in an old factory in Volary, Czechoslovakia.
One of the most remarkable chapters in Gerda Weissmann’s life began May 7, 1945, the day she was liberated from the Nazis. White-haired and 68 pounds, she was one day shy of her 21st birthday. Her liberator, Lt. Kurt Klein, was a U.S. Army intelligence officer who also was Jewish. Klein was born in 1920 in Walldorf, Germany, near Heidelberg. In 1937, his parents sent him to live with his sister in Buffalo, New York, where she had gone to continue the nursing career forbidden to her in Nazi Germany. His brother fled Nazi oppression the following year. Ludwig and Alice Klein expected they would be able to join their children in America soon afterward, but they ultimately perished in Auschwitz. The family's story is the centerpiece of the 1994 documentary, America and the Holocaust: Deceit and Indifference, a 90-minute presentation of the PBS series The American Experience.
The 1945–1946 correspondence between Gerda Weissmann and Kurt Klein — marking the growth of their love, their plans for their life together and the hurdles they had to overcome to be together — would later be published as The Hours After: Letters of Love and Longing in War’s Aftermath (2000). Married in Paris in 1946, the Kleins moved to the United States and made their home in Buffalo, New York. Their story is portrayed in the film Testimony, a permanent exhibit at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
Gerda Weissmann Klein’s 1957 autobiography, All but My Life, is a classic of Holocaust literature published in 68 editions and used in high schools and colleges around the world. It is the foundation of Kary Antholis’ documentary One Survivor Remembers, co-produced by HBO and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. The film received the 1995 Academy Award for Documentary Short Subject as well as an Emmy Award. In December 2012, One Survivor Remembers was selected by The Library of Congress as one of 25 films added to the National Film Registry. The National Film Registry includes 600 films (1897–1999) selected for their "important cultural, artistic and historic achievements in filmmaking."
In 1996, Gerda Weissmann Klein was one of five women to receive the prestigious international Lion of Judah award in Jerusalem. In 1997 she was appointed to the governing council of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum by President Bill Clinton.
In 2004, Gerda Weissmann Klein released A Boring Evening at Home, which touches on the privileges of the life we all too frequently take for granted. She dedicated the book to her husband, to whom she was married for 56 years. Kurt Klein died in 2002, at the age of 81.
In January 2006, Gerda Weissmann Klein presented the keynote address at the United Nations’ First Annual Official Observance of the Holocaust.
On February 15, 2011, President Obama awarded Gerda Weissmann Klein, along with 14 other notable individuals, the 2010 Presidential Medal of Freedom. Maya Angelou, Warren Buffett, George H.W. Bush, Jasper Johns, U.S. Representative John Lewis, Yo-Yo Ma, Angela Merkel, Stan Musial and Bill Russell were among the others who received the award in a ceremony in the East Room of the White House.
Klein has written nine books on a wide variety of topics for an array of different audiences. These include The Blue Rose (1974), a story about a developmentally disabled child. Wings of Epoh (2007) is a poignant story about a boy with autism and his journey with an unlikely companion, a butterfly. Promise of a New Spring (1981) is devoted to teaching young children about the Holocaust, while A Passion for Sharing (1984) is an award-winning biography of New Orleans philanthropist Edith Rosenwald Stern. Her most recent book, One Raspberry (2009), is dedicated to the memory of her close childhood friend Ilse Kleinzahler who died in her arms exactly one week before the liberation.
Klein has been featured on the cover of the McDougal-Littell high school textbook, The Americans, together with such other notable figures as Franklin D. Roosevelt, Martin Luther King Jr., Ronald Reagan, and General Norman Schwartzkopf. Klein’s constant striving for the preservation of human rights and dignity has earned her seven Doctorates of Humane Letters and many other awards.
In 2008, she founded Citizenship Counts, a national nonprofit organization whose mission is to educate today’s youth on the tenets of citizenship, encourage them to appreciate their rights and responsibilities as Americans, and give them an opportunity to celebrate their citizenship by hosting a naturalization ceremony or participating in a service learning project. 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, The Path to Citizenship, provides 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. Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, a member of the organization’s national advisory board, officiated at the 2009 naturalization ceremony for the pilot program in which several hundred middle school students from Arizona participated.
Klein’s wish is that Citizenship Counts 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. She lives in Arizona and has three children, eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
CITIZENSHIP COUNTS OFFICIAL SITE
2010 PRESIDENTIAL MEDAL OF FREEDOM CEREMONY
2010 PRESIDENTIAL MEAL OF FREEDOM RECIPIENT — GERDA WEISSMANN KLEIN
AMERICA AND THE HOLOCAUST: DENIAL AND INDIFFERENCE —
official site for a 1994 episode of the PBS series American Experience
that includes an enhanced transcript and a timeline of Kurt Klein's family's
efforts to obtain safe passage for their parents out of Germany
VENUE INFORMATION + DIRECTIONS
$8 General Public
$6 UW System Faculty/Staff • Age 62 & Over
$4 UW System Student • Age 17 & Under
Student tickets are $2 until the day of the event
All seats are general admission
A typical Forum program includes a 60-minute lecture and a 30-minute question-and-answer session, followed by an informal open reception. The reception for this event will take place in the Ojibwe Ballroom, Davies Center 330. Books will be sold by the University Bookstore for signing by the speaker during the reception.
This event will be signed for the deaf and hard of hearing. Assistive listening devices and large-print programs are also available upon request.
The Forum is funded by the students of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
Wisconsin Public Radio and WHYS Radio have contributed generous promotional support.