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Gerda Weissmann Klein

b. 1924

by Sandra K. Bornstein

“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. The darker the night, the brighter the dawn, and when it gets really, really dark, this is when one sees the true brilliance of the stars.” These words illustrate the courage and inner strength that made it possible for Gerda Weissmann Klein to endure the horrifying conditions of the Holocaust.

Gerda Weissmann, the second child of Julius Weissmann (fur manufacturing executive) and Helene Mueckenbrunn Weissmann (housewife), was born on May 8, 1924, in Bielsko, Poland. She attended Notre Dame Gymnasium in Bielsko until the Germans invaded Poland in 1939. Both of her parents, as well as her older brother Arthur (b. 1919), died during the Holocaust. Miraculously, Gerda survived the ghetto, deportation, slave-labor camps, and the infamous three-month death march from the Polish-German border to southern Czechoslovakia. As the sole survivor of her family, she has provided the world a glimpse of her ordeal through her written and oral testimonies.

In 1946, Gerda Weissmann married her liberator, Kurt Klein (1920–2002), an American intelligence officer, in Paris. After their marriage, they traveled to the United States, where Kurt Klein owned a printing business and was an editor. Kurt Klein, a German Jew, had been sent to the United States in 1937 as a safety measure, and later he served in the armed forces. His parents remained in Germany and died in Auschwitz. The Kleins have three children: Vivian E. (b. 1948), Leslie A. (b. 1952), and James Arthur (b. 1957).

In 1957, Klein published her first book, All But My Life (now in its thirty-ninth edition). This remarkable autobiography recounts her experiences during the Holocaust and has been used as a primary source for Holocaust studies in this country as well as Great Britain. Her Holocaust experiences were also the subject of an HBO special, One Survivor Remembers, which received an Oscar for Best Documentary–Short in 1996, a TV Emmy Award, and two Cable Ace Awards. Gerda Weissmann Klein’s story also is presented in the “Testimony” film, which is part of the permanent exhibit at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. Her other books include A Passion for Sharing, which received the Valley Forge Freedom Award. It is a biography that narrates the fascinating life of Edith Rosenwald Stern (1895–1980), one of Julius Rosenwald’s children and a prominent New Orleans Jewish philanthropist who throughout her life was deeply involved in her community, education, race relations, politics, and the arts. She has written two children’s books. The Blue Rose (1974) is a poignant story that depicts the life of an autistic child through pictures, poetic verse, and the symbolism of a blue rose. During the International Year for Disabled Persons (1981), The Blue Rose was translated into Hebrew by the Begin family, and the term became a synonym for a handicapped child in Israel. Promise of a New Spring: The Holocaust and Renewal (1981) is a sensitive and compassionate book designed to teach young children about the Holocaust using the allegory of a forest fire. Peregrinations, Adventures with the Green Parrot, published by the Josephine Goodyear Committee, benefits the Children’s Hospital of Buffalo. She was also the featured columnist of “Stories for Young Readers,” a weekly column in the Buffalo Sunday News for more than seventeen years (1978–1996) and is a noted author of television scripts and biographical profiles. The Hours After: Letters of Love and Longing in War’s Aftermath was published in 2000. The book is a series of love letters between Gerda and Kurt, from May 16, 1945—when Kurt’s military obligations required them to separate—until May 27, 1946, when they were reunited and married in France. Klein’s participation within the Jewish community is best exemplified by her volunteer work for Hadassah, the United Jewish Appeal, Israel Bonds, and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. She received the Hannah Solomon Award from the National Council of Jewish Women (1974), the Myrtle Award from Hadassah (1985), the Women of Inspiration Award at the International Lion of Judah Conference in Jerusalem from the Women’s Division of the United Jewish Appeal (1996) (she was the only American Jewish woman to receive the latter award).

Due to her charisma and her undeniable abilities as an author, historian, and columnist, Klein has a become an internationally recognized motivational speaker. She has been featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show, CBS Sunday Morning Show, and 60 Minutes. In 1999 she and her husband appeared on a Nightline episode focusing on her visit to Columbine High School. Eleven months after the shootings there, Klein had visited the parents, teachers and students of the Littleton, Colorado school, who felt her story of survival to be an inspiration for their own.

In 1997, she received an appointment to the United States Holocaust Commission by President Clinton. In 1998 the Kleins founded the Gerda and Kurt Klein Foundation to promote education, teach tolerance, lessen prejudice and encourage community service. Throughout her life, Klein has been an inspiration. Her response to the Holocaust, her devotion to her family, her work with all types of children, her commitment to the American Jewish community and Israel, her active support for the war against hunger, racism, and intolerance, and her prolific writing and lecturing are all examples of her dynamic role as an American Jewish woman in the twentieth century. Her life exemplifies the ability to overcome adversity by striving to link a fractured past with the future of American Judaism.

SELECTED WORKS BY GERDA WEISSMANN KLEIN

All But My Life (1957);

A Boring Evening at Home (2004);

The Blue Rose (1974);

The Hours After: Letters of Love and Longing in War’s Aftermath, with Kurt Klein (2000);

A Passion for Sharing (1984);

Promise of a New Spring: The Holocaust and Renewal (1981).

Bibliography

Booklist (October 1, 1996): 362;

Commire, Anne, ed. Something About the Author. Vol. 44 (1986);

“Gerda Does it Again—Latest Book Chronicles Life of New Orleans Woman.” Buffalo News, October 24, 1984, p. B6;

“Gerda Klein Leaves Her Mark on Israel.” Buffalo News, January 1, 1981, p. 27;

“Gerda Klein’s Riches—an Oscar, Fame and Family Admiration.” Buffalo News, April 10, 1996, p. D1;

“Journey to Jerusalem: The Search for Peace and Brotherhood.” Buffalo News Magazine, December 24, 1978, pp. 4–7;

JUF News (Chicago). October, 1996: 19+;

May, Hal, ed. Contemporary Authors. Vol. 116 (1986);

“New Books are Aimed at Children (Peregrinations).” Buffalo News, June 22, 1986, p. 9E;

One Survivor Remembers. Videotape;

“Oscar-Nominated Film Recalls War’s Grip on Kenmore Couple.” Buffalo News, April 8,1984, p. 3E;

“An Oscar Speech that was Close to Transcendent.” Buffalo News, April 7, 1996, TV Topics, p. 2;

“Talk Stirs Teachers of Disabled.” Buffalo News, January 28, 1984. p. 5A;

Television Review. NYTimes, May 17, 1995;

“Tragic Story Ends, A New Life Begins.” Buffalo News, February 16, 1970, p. 15.

21 Comments

Gerda - I read first "All But My Life" and it was one I could not put down. Today I finished "The Hours After" and I must admit, many times I had to stop just to wipe away the tears. The conflict after the war wasn't as bad as the war itself, but it did pose tremendous difficulties for you and Kurt. Thank God for your Uncle from Turkey. It was nice of him to lavish you with so much in Paris and for having your birth certificate sent to him by your father. I wanted Ilse to make it out of there very badly and when she died it was very hard to take. I see that Kurt had passed away in the year 2000 and that you are still with us at the age of 88. If you lived in Florida it would be hard for me not to have visited you by now. I appreciate your books very much. Dennis Brayshaw Tampa, Fl.

beautiful story, but very sad. i am a relative of gerda, and I am very proud or her.

Dear Gerda I just finish reading "All But My Life", what a wonderful, heart wrenching, I learned so much about World War II, my grandparents, uncles, aunts, & cousins all died in the concentration camps. Only my mother survived, she was send to America. Thank you so much for helping understand, my mother never wanted to talk about her pain. I'm looking forward to reading your other books. I'm am so greatfull for your beautiful words, Donna

wonderful words!!!!!

Thank you for your honesty, my students were brought to tears by your work.

I took my son Andrew {a musician) and his wife to hear Gerda speak when she was in Boise, Idaho last year. He was so inspired by her and her sharing in the video that her wrote a song to honor her. It is entitled: GWK1945 and can be viewed: https://aksmusic1.bandcamp.com...

Is there some way Gerda can go to the site to hear the music and to view the lyrics?

The Gerda and Kurt Klein Foundation lists this email address for enquiries about her: requests@citizenshipcounts.org. The foundation also lists a teaching kit about survivors as available at www.tolerance.org/material/ord....

I am a cousin of Gerda's and have published her least known book, The Windsor Caper because when she showed me the manuscript I fell in love with it. She originally wrote it in the 1980's as a weekly serial for the Buffalo News Children's Corner. It's a delightful story about two little girls who are accidentally locked into Windsor Castle, England, while visiting the famous Queen Mary Doll's House. They have some amazing adventures: with historical characters who jump out of paintings, with some terrifying heraldic beasties and with a couple of all too modern crooks bent on stealing priceless artworks. It's a delightful tale. Gerda always describes it as her only book that is "not rooted in pain". I hope you will list it on this excellent site, It's very special to Gerda. Full details: The Windsor Caper, G.W. Klein, Pub.Martin Good, ISBN 978-0-9576554-0-9, from online bookstores in paper and e-book versions.

We also have a new website now - http://thewindsorcaper.com/

Dear Mrs. Weismann Klein

I have read all you're books and watched all you're documentaries, but I still would like to learn more. If in any way possible could you write a letter to my class talking about you're time in the holocaust please, my teacher would love it. ( and if you could sign it at the bottom please ).

Here is the return address

835 Railroad Ave Las Vegas, NM 87701

Thank you

Your message has been sent to Ms. Klein at her foundations email address: requests@citizenshipcounts.org.

This message is for Ms. Weissmann-Klein: Is there way you send a message to my class as we have been studying the Holocaust and watched your movie One Survivor Remembers. My students and have been so moved by you and your courage. If you could send a message to my students about your experiences we would be so moved. I can be reached at healeya@davenportschoools.org

Ms. Klein's foundation lists this email address for inquiries about her: requests@citizenshipcounts.org. The foundation also lists a teaching kit about survivors as available at www.tolerance.org/material/ord....

Please will you get this message to Gerda for me. I remember when you and Steven Spielberg did the Oprah Show talking about the SHOA Foundation and they showed a picture on the screen and in the Army Jeep were 3 Men. Oskar Schindler, Your Husband and my GrandFather Harry H. Mogan. Do you have a copy of that picture as I would love to have it for my collection of my Grandfather's things?! xo

You are always in my heart Gerda!!!

Your message was sent to Ms. Klein's foundation at requests@citizenshipcounts.org.

Dear Gerda, I met you on a United Jewish Apeal Mission trip in January, 1972, when you had a reunion of the women who survived with you and were saved by Kurt. My Mom, Dorothy, spent the ten day journey in Israel--mostly with you, and I was with her. We loved our time with you; my Mom especially found in you a warmth that she had always craved due to her extreme lifelong depression. You and she found a friendship that meant a great deal to her during that time in Israel, and we didn't know until the very end of our trip of your special place in that group of women. You and Kurt came to Greensboro, North Carolina several times after that trip, and my mother was so happy to see you again. I moved into my family home to take care of my Mom in 1991 (two years after my Dad died), and am still here in Greensboro. I wanted you to know that my mother passed away peacefully at home on November 17th, 2012, with her family surrounding her. I believe that she would have wanted you to know how much she loved you and what a comfort you were to her. I hope this note finds you well and happy with your children and grandchildren. I send my love to you, Linda Rogers

You may contact Ms. Klein through the Gerda and Kurt Klein Foundation at requests@citizenshipcounts.org.

i think its amazing that she is still alive and that she SURVIVED the holocaust!!(: i look up to you gerda!!!!!!!!!!!!!(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:

love "All But My Life."

I picked it up yesterday at a bookstore in Orlando while on vacation.. Started to read it last nite, am just finishing it now. So good to read because I can truly feel her spark of life that kept her alive during WWII, and also has shown others so much. Although I believe I had heard of her before, it was only now, after reading her book, that I looked up info about her on the web. Thank you so much for sharing and giving us a glimpse of what it was like. It reminds me to savor and appreciate everything I have, and to remember that I, we, must be kind.

I read the book All But My Life, and let me tell you it was life changing. It made me realize how grateful I should be for everything i have. Also, it made me cry and laugh and smile all at the same time... It was so touching. And at the end how Kurt rescued Gerda, oh my, I cried for her! God bless you, Gerda and Kurt.

Gerda Klein
Full image
Gerda Klein.

How to cite this page

Bornstein, Sandra K.. "Gerda Weissmann Klein." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 1 March 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on September 20, 2017) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/klein-gerda-weissmann>.

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