A Holocaust survivor with ties to a local organization was awarded the nation’s highest honor for civilians yesterday; the Medal of Freedom.
Gerda Weissmann Klein had a happy childhood in southern Poland until German soldiers invaded in September 1939. Within a few months, her brother Artur was taken away, and the rest of the family was forced to live in the basement of their home; later they had to move to a ghetto. In 1942, Gerda was separated from her parents and sent to forced-labor camps. Three years later, when her camp was evacuated, she and other prisoners were led on a death march that ended in the Czech town of Volary.
Klein has shared her experience through books and lectures in an effort to promote tolerance and the value of freedom.
Beth Reisboard heads the Gerda and Kurt Klein Foundation in Narberth, which works with Klein in creating teaching materials and events around these issues.
She says despite Klein’s horrific experiences, her message has always been a positive one. “More of compassion and caring and understanding of how much alike we are, and not to dwell on the differences, but to really see the goodness in each person that you come in contact with.”
In a 2006 interview with WHYY, the 86-year-old author said she found her positive outlook amidst the horrors of living in labor camps:
“There was another dimension which lived there, and that is the love, the friendship, the caring and the sharing which give one hope for the ultimate goodness of humanity,” said Klein.
Klein said she has always felt that it was her duty as a survivor to carry on this legacy. Her foundation has distributed over 100 thousand teaching kits promoting tolerance to schools all over the country.