Gerda Weissmann Klein
May 8, 1924
|Died||April 3, 2022 (aged 97)|
Phoenix, Arizona, U.S.
|Occupation||Writer, human rights activist|
(m. 1946; died 2002)
Gerda Weissmann Klein (May 8, 1924 – April 3, 2022) was 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. She married Kurt Klein (1920–2002) in 1946.
The Kleins became advocates of Holocaust education and human rights, dedicating most of their lives to promoting tolerance 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 United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, which features her testimony in a permanent exhibit.
On February 15, 2011, Klein was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States.
Gerda Weissmann, the second child of manufacturing executive Julius Weissmann and Helene (née Mueckenbrunn) Weissmann, was born May 8, 1924, in Bielsko (now Bielsko-Biała), Poland. She attended Notre Dame Gymnasium in Bielsko until the Germans invaded Poland in 1939. Both of her parents and her older brother Arthur (b. 1919) were murdered in the Holocaust.
Life under the Nazis
On September 3, 1939, German troops invaded fifteen-year-old Weissmann's home in Bielsko, Poland. Shortly after the invasion began, the family received a telegram from Gerda's uncle saying the Germans were advancing quickly, and the family should leave Poland immediately. They stayed because Gerda's father had suffered a heart attack. His doctors advised that he not be moved or subjected to undue stress.
In 1942, Julius Weissmann was sent to a death camp where he was murdered. Not long afterwards, the ghetto where Weissmann Klein and her mother lived was liquidated. Helene Weissman was forced into a group slated for a death camp; Gerda, deemed fit for work, was sent to a labor camp. As she and others boarded trucks, Gerda jumped out in a frantic effort to reunite with her mother. According to Weissmann Klein's account, Moshe Merin, head of the local Jewish Council Judenrat, threw her back in her truck, saying "You are too young to die."
In May 1945, Weissmann was liberated by forces of the United States Army in Volary, Czechoslovakia; these forces included Lieutenant Kurt Klein, who was born in Germany. A teenage Klein immigrated to the United States in 1937 to escape Nazism. Klein's parents were murdered at Auschwitz concentration camp. When Kurt Klein first encountered Gerda Weissmann, who was one day short of her 21st birthday, she was white-haired, weighed 68 pounds, and dressed in rags. When she hesitantly informed Klein she was a Jew, he emotionally revealed that he was Jewish as well. After a courtship of several months, Gerda and Kurt were engaged in September 1945. Diplomatic and immigration restrictions delayed their wedding for a year, but Kurt finally returned to Europe from the U.S. in 1946 and they were married in Paris.
Life after the war
After the war, the Kleins moved to and raised three children in Buffalo, New York, where Kurt ran a printing business and Gerda became a writer and spent 17 years as a columnist for The Buffalo News.
The documentary, One Survivor Remembers, (1995) based on Gerda Klein's autobiography, All But My Life, produced and directed by Kary Antholis, and distributed by HBO Films, won the 1995 Academy Award for Best Documentary (Short Subject). After Antholis delivered his acceptance speech, Weissmann Klein stepped up to the podium and delivered her own set of remarks:
I have been in a place for six incredible years where winning meant a crust of bread and to live another day. Since the blessed day of my liberation I have asked the question, why am I here? I am no better. In my mind's eye I see those years and days and those who never lived to see the magic of a boring evening at home. On their behalf I wish to thank you for honoring their memory, and you cannot do it in any better way than when you return to your homes tonight to realize that each of you who know the joy of freedom are winners.
Weissmann Klein has published several memoirs and children's stories, including The Windsor Caper (2013), a weekly serial in The Buffalo News during the 1980s, about two American girls who have a night-time adventure in Windsor Castle, England. Weissmann Klein describes it as her only work that is "not rooted in pain".
Weissmann Klein lived in Buffalo for several decades until her husband Kurt retired and they moved to Arizona in 1985 to be closer to their children and grandchildren. She died in Phoenix on April 3, 2022, at the age of 97.
Awards and recognition
Presidential Medal of Freedom
On February 15, 2011, President Barack Obama presented Weissmann Klein and 14 other recipients with the 2010 Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States. At the ceremony in the East Room of the White House, President Obama announced, "This year's Medal of Freedom recipients reveal the best of who we are and who we aspire to be." He stated the following as Klein 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 [560 km] death march. And she weighed only 68 pounds [31 kg] 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.
President Obama then read a statement from Weissmann Klein: "I pray you never stand at any crossroads in your own lives, but if you do, if the darkness seems so total, if you think there is no way out, remember, never ever give up."
Weissmann Klein was selected to be the keynote speaker at the United Nations' first annual International Holocaust Remembrance Day in January 2006. She spoke to school children and traveled the world to spread her message of tolerance and hope, meeting with world leaders. In 1996, Weissmann Klein received the international Lion of Judah award in Jerusalem. She received an honorary doctorate in Humane Letters from Rosary Hill College in 1975.
In 1997, President Bill Clinton appointed Weissmann Klein to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum's Governing Council. In 2007, the museum bestowed Weissmann Klein with its highest honor at The Arizona Biltmore before 1,000 guests. She was inducted into the Arizona Women's Hall of Fame in 2021.
- 1957: All But My Life. New York: Hill & Wang, 1957, expanded edition 1995. ISBN 0809024608.
- 1974: The Blue Rose. Photographs by Norma Holt. New York: L. Hill, 1974. ISBN 0882080474.
- 1981: Promise of a New Spring: The Holocaust and Renewal. Illustrated by Vincent Tartaro. Chappaqua, N.Y.: Rossel Books, 1981. ISBN 0940646501.
- 1984: A Passion for Sharing: The Life of Edith Rosenwald Stern. Chappaqua, N.Y.: Rossel, 1984. ISBN 0940646153.
- 1986: Peregrinations: Adventures with the Green Parrot. Illustrations by Chabela. Buffalo, N.Y.: Josephine Goodyear Committee, 1986. ISBN 096166990X.
- 2000: The Hours After: Letters of Love and Longing in the War's Aftermath. Written with Kurt Klein. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000. ISBN 0312242581.
- 2004: A Boring Evening at Home. Washington, D.C.: Leading Authorities Press, 2004. ISBN 0971007888.
- 2007: Wings of EPOH. Illustrated by Peter Reynolds. [S.l.]: FableVision Press, 2007. ISBN 1891405497.
- 2009: One Raspberry. Illustrated by Judy Hodge. Klein, 2009. ISBN 0615356230.
- 2013: The Windsor Caper. Illustrated by Tim Oliver. Martin Good, 2013. ISBN 9780956921352.
- 1995: One Survivor Remembers
- 1996: 60 Minutes: "One Survivor Remembers" CBS
- 2005: About Face: The Story of the Jewish Refugee Soldiers of World War II
- Close up from Bielsko elementary school class photo, 1935. Courtesy of classmate Lucia Schwarzfuks Matzner who also appears in the photo, Holocaust Survivor, later an adult friend.
- Personal Histories: Gerda Weissmann Klein and Kurt Klein Archived August 5, 2006, at the Wayback Machine, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Retrieved June 15, 2013.
- "Gerda Weissmannn". United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. USHMM. Retrieved December 27, 2020.
- Klein, Gerda Weissmann (1995). All But My Life (A new, expanded ed.). New York: Hill and Wang. ISBN 0809024608.
- Gerda Weissmann Klein's testimony at "THE DEATH MARCH TO VOLARY" - an exhibition at Yad Vashem website
- "Voices on Antisemitism interview with Gerda Weissmann Klein". United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. December 7, 2006. Archived from the original on June 22, 2007.
- "Kurt Klein Oral History Interview". www.c-span.org. C-SPAN.org. October 11, 1990. Retrieved April 9, 2022.
Kurt Klein talked about his early life in Germany, the rise of Nazi persecution of the Jews, his escape to the United States and his family's efforts to rescue his parents, who ultimately perished at the Auschwitz concentration camp. ...
- "Kurt Klein HUMANITARIAN, PUBLIC SPEAKER, FORMER REFUGEE, US MILITARY INTELLIGENCE SERVICE OFFICER, 'RITCHIE BOY.' 1920-2002". jewishbuffalohistory.org. Jewish Buffalo History Center. November 9, 2021. Retrieved April 10, 2022.
Kurt Klein was born in Walldorf, near Heidelberg, in Baden, Germany to parents, Alice and Ludwig Klein on July 2, 1920. ... Alice and Ludwig were forcibly deported and taken 'east' to Auschwitz where both were murdered, although their children did not learn of this fate until after the war ended.
- Klein, Gerda Weissmann (2000). The hours after: letters of love and longing in the war's aftermath (1st ed.). New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0312242581.
- Anderson, Dale (April 7, 2022). "Gerda Weissmann Klein, 97, Holocaust survivor who turned horror into compassion". Buffalo News. Retrieved April 10, 2022.
One of the soldiers was Lt. Kurt Klein, who had escaped from prewar Germany as a teen. ... As she recovered, they became engaged and were married in Paris on June 18, 1946. Once her visa was approved, she came to join him in Buffalo, his adopted home. ... They made a home on East Hazeltine Avenue in Kenmore and raised three children. Mrs. Klein was active in Temple Beth Zion and for 17 years wrote a column, "Stories for Young Readers," in The Buffalo News. Her husband, a printer, was president and owner of Kiesling-Klein Printing Co. ... She died April 3 after a period of declining health at her home in Phoenix, where she had lived since 1985. She was 97. ... When her husband retired, they moved to Arizona to be near their children and grandchildren. ... She received many honors, including the International Lion of Judah Award in Jerusalem in 1996. President Clinton appointed her to the Holocaust Museum's Governing Council. Last year she was inducted into the Arizona Women's Hall of Fame. Survivors include two daughters, Vivian Ullman and Leslie Simon; a son, James; eight grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren. Her husband Kurt died in 2002.
- Klein, Gerda Weissmann (1995). All But My Life (A new, expanded ed.). New York: Hill and Wang. ISBN 0809015803.
- Klein, Gerda Weissmann. "One Survivor Remembers". IMDB. Retrieved December 27, 2020.
- "Academy Awards Acceptance Speeches - Search Results | Margaret Herrick Library | Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences". aaspeechesdb.oscars.org. Retrieved March 11, 2022.
- Klein, Gerda Weissmann (August 2013). The Windsor Caper. Martin Good. ISBN 978-0-9576554-0-9. Retrieved April 10, 2022.
- Good, Martin (April 15, 2014). "The Windsor Caper". Medium. Retrieved April 10, 2022.
- Tapp, Tom (April 4, 2022). "Gerda Weissmann Klein Dies: Holocaust Survivor, Presidential Medal Of Freedom Recipient And Subject Of Oscar-Winning Film 'One Survivor Remembers,' Was 97". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved April 4, 2022.
- "Gerda Klein: An Outstanding American by Choice". Department of Homeland security. DHS.
- White House Press Office, "Remarks by the President Honoring the Recipients of the 2010 Medal of Freedom", February 15, 2011. Retrieved June 15, 2013.
- "Remembrance and Beyond". The Holocaust and United Nations Outreach Program. United Nations.
- "Commencement 75 | Honorary Degree Recipients". Response. Vol. VII, no. 3. Rosary Hill College. Summer 1975. Retrieved April 10, 2022.
- "One Survivor Remembers". Shushterman Center for Jewish Studies. The University of Texas at Austin.