Episode 0019

The Responsibility of Living

Gerda Weissmann Klein is a humanitarian, author, human rights activist, Holocaust survivor and proud naturalized citizen.

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Gerda Weissmann was born May 8, 1924 in Bielsko, Poland. In 1939 her life changed forever when German troops invaded her hometown of Bielsko. From 1939 until the end of World War II she lived in fear and deprivation. After being separated from her brother shortly after the invasion and from her parents in 1942, she worked in slave labor and concentration camps until she was forced to walk in a 350-mile death march. She never lost the will to live. When World War II ended in 1945, Gerda was left homeless and without family or friends. Despite all that was lost, she found a fairy-tale ending when she married her liberator, U.S. Army Intelligence officer, Kurt Klein. Two years after she immigrated to the United States as Kurt’s wife, Gerda became an American citizen.

For more than six decades, Gerda Klein 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 where she raised her family and has fought to promote tolerance and combat hunger.

The story of Gerda and Kurt’s meeting and their life together is documented in her autobiography, All But My Life, which has been in print for 53 years, in 62 editions and has been read by countless students around the world.

All But My Life is the foundation for the documentary film, “One Survivor Remembers” which was produced by Home Box Office (HBO) and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM). The film won the 1995 Academy Award for Documentary Short Subject and the 1994-95 Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Information Special. In 1998, a public nonprofit foundation, the Gerda and Kurt Klein Foundation, was established to honor the Kleins’ mission to promote tolerance and community service through the creation of two nationally recognized educational programs. 

On November 17, 2010 President Obama named Gerda Klein, as well as 14 other incredible individuals, as recipients of the 2010 Medal of Freedom — the nation’s highest civilian honor.