Gerda Weissman Klein, a teenage writer, activist, who survived the Holocaust before being the subject of the Presidential Medal of Independence and the 1995 Oscar-and-Emmy-winning film, died yesterday, according to the film’s director Carrie Antholys. He was 97 years old.
Born in 1924, Weissman Klein was sent to a Nazi forced labor camp after the Germans occupied his native Poland. Randomized through three different camps, he almost died due to overwork. As Allied troops advanced, Weissman Klein was one of 4,000 women sent on a forced death march away from release. The group traveled through Poland, Germany, and now the Czech Republic. While he was surviving the war, both his parents and his brother died during the Holocaust.
Weissman Klein was eventually liberated by American forces. She married a soldier named Kurt Klein and moved to the United States. They had three children.
Weissman Klein wrote an autobiography, All but my life, Which was made into a documentary short form in 1995 by H.B.O., produced and directed by Antholys. The name of the 40 minute movie One Survivor RemembersIt has both won an Emmy for Outstanding Documentary and an Oscar for Best Documentary (short story).
Anthony Weissman brings Klein to the stage to receive him. The soft-spoken survivors almost never got a chance to speak, after the director said his “thank you”, the orchestra seems to have started playing them. But Weissman Klein stepped up to Mike, and a silence descended on the room. Many consider his short speech to be the most memorable award given at the Academy Awards.
Here it is in full:
I have been in a place for six incredible years where winning meant one loaf of bread and another day of survival. Since the day I was released, I’ve been asking, “Why am I here?”
I’m not good. In my mind’s eye I see those years and days and those who have never lived to see the magic of a boring evening at home.
On their behalf I would like to thank you for honoring their memory, and there is no better way for you than to return to your home tonight to ensure that everyone who knows the joy of freedom is victorious.
You can see his Oscar speech below.
One Survivor Remembers Later it was added to the National Film Registry. In 2005, the film was made available to educators as part of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance Program. It has become one of the most popular offers in the program, and millions of students have seen it, according to Anthology.
In part, he wrote in the National Film Registry as part of the film’s allusion, linking director Weissman Klein’s story to the horrific current event, a message that resonates today.
“When we made the picture, the genocidal war was raging in Bosnia and Rwanda,” the piece reads. “We hoped that the film would communicate to future generations the tragic consequences of intolerance, in a way that cannot be statistic and inhumane footage of genocide.”
In 2008, Weissman Klein founded a national non-profit organization to educate his eldest granddaughter, Alyssa Cooper, about students’ citizenship rights and responsibilities. It’s called the Citizenship Census, and its main goal is to “inspire pride in America.” Nonprofit work continues today.
In 1997, President Bill Clinton appointed Wisman Klein to the board of directors of the Holocaust Memorial Museum in the United States. He was elected keynote speaker at the first annual International Holocaust Remembrance Day of the United Nations in 2006.
In 2011, Barack Obama chose Weissman Klein to receive the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. At the presentation, Obama said that “he has taught the world that often in our most frustrating moments we discover the amount of our energy and the depth of our love.”
Weissman Klein said in a statement that day, “I pray that you will never stand at any point in your life, but if you do, if the darkness seems so full, if you think there is no way, remember, never give up. . “