People commonly underestimate the severity of the holocaust. Many people do not see and understand the real struggles of what happened during this time. In this period of time there were 17.5 million Jewish people in the world and 6 million of them died due to German dictator, Adolf Hitler’s wishes. He believed that many of Germany’s defeats were the fault of Jews living in Europe. Gerda Weissmann Klein is a survivor of the holocaust that is still living today in present day life. She was born into a middle class Jewish family in her hometown of Bielsko, Poland with her mother, Helene who was a housewife, her father, Julius who was a fur manufacturing executive, and her older brother Arthur. She is known to be the only survivor of her family even though she was the youngest. She had a very intense experience during the holocaust and is still continuing to talk about it today and influence and help many lives. Gerda Weissmann Klein was one of the most influential Americans after the holocaust was over because of her inspiring story, huge impact, and how she is still continuing to influence many people today.
To start off, Gerda Weissmann Klein had a very overwhelming experience in the holocaust. It was full of many devastating moments that she will never forget. She was fifteen when the holocaust started around September 1st, 1939 which is a very young age to have to fight for yourself with nobody to depend or rely on. She was now not able to go to school or even in her own front yard because she was Jewish and it now became dangerous for her to do so. She witnessed the first fighter planes fly over her hometown of Bielsko, Poland. The next morning people were in the streets chanting ‘Heil Hitler!’ repeatedly while carrying red and white swastika flags. Germany had invaded Poland and wanted to take over the country and eventually the world following that.
Gerda’s family knew that they needed to relocate and not stay in one place for too long of a time because there was risk of being caught. Her family made it a year relocating and staying undercover without being caught until they repositioned to a place called ‘the ghetto.’ They were not there for long until they got discovered by the Nazi’s and her older brother Arthur was taken away at the age of 19 years old. This devastated the whole family because they did not know if they were ever going to see him again after that being that he was the first and only one to be taken away at the time. Two years passed by which brought them to 1942 when Gerda’s parents were also discovered and taken away. Since they were older, they did not get sent to work camps because they need young, fit workers on the job, her parents were sent straight to a concentration camp to be gassed and killed. She was left alone to fight for herself with nobody to trust or depend on, and she never saw any of her family again after this.
Eventually she was taken and put on a train where she traveled to work camps which were different and apart from concentration camps. Work camps were a place where individuals were made to perform forced labor until exhaustion no matter how hazardous the conditions were. The inmates that were kept in the labour camps were held in dangerous and life threatening circumstances. It was extremely unsanitary and was impossible for laborers to keep clean which would eventually lead to them contracting infections and diseases.
If you were too weak or unable to perform any labor you were immediately taken out of the work camps and sent to a concentration camp to be killed. Her job in the work camps was to manage the loom and make parachutes for the army. At the work camps Gerda met a girl named Suse who became her best friend, they stuck together throughout the holocaust after that until liberation. She was very happy to meet someone during this time because she had lost everyone that she loved.
Furthermore, Gerda had been through the concentration camps and slave labor camps for six years along with a three month death march. The death march was a brutal 350 miles long and it was one of the most life threatening parts of the holocaust. People would be forced to march a certain distance in a specific direction and the Nazi’s would kill anyone who was weaker than the others. The death march that Gerda was a part of contained over 2,000 people, and out of those 2,000 people only about 150 survived it.
So many people died due to the terribly cold weather and starvation. Suse and Gerda both survived the long, tedious death march and were very close to liberation and freedom. Gerda had made it to liberation, and she joyfully called out to Suse that they were finally free. It turned out that Suse had died the day of liberation and never made it to complete freedom. This is when Gerda had believed that she had lost everything besides her own life. By the time of liberation Gerda was very worn out and in terrible shape from the years of not being able to correctly take care of herself.
She was now 21 in the year of 1946, six years since the first planes flew over Poland. She had scaled a very unhealthy weight of 68 pounds, and she had not taken a bath in 3 whole years, not since her parents were relocated and she started traveling to work camps alone resulting from this, her hair also started to turn white. Gerda was liberated by an American soldier named Kurt Klein who she fell in love with at the time. In the year of 1946, she fled to America with Kurt and settled in Buffalo, New York. In that same year, they had also traveled to Paris to get married. Together they lived a happy life and had three kids, two daughters, Leslie and Vivian along with one son named James.
To continue, Gerda Weissmann Klein had made a huge impact during the holocaust. She had always believed in tolerance and equal rights for all people. This trait helped her encourage others and motivate herself to survive this war and tough times. Many people who knew her described her as heroic. She was always there for those she loved and pushed them to get through even when times were at their worst. She was also a very brave and loving person. She was courageous enough to fight for herself even after her whole family was taken away from her and never seen again, and loving enough to find friends and help and guide them along the way. She was very determined to survive and never gave up even when conditions were at their hardest. Gerda always believed that you have to fight all of the intolerance that people have against others and treat everyone with an equal amount of respect.
Being a survivor, she had many people who wanted to hear about her story and learn about what it was like to be in this type of situation at such a young age. After she became an American citizen, she devoted her life to spreading a message of love, hope, and humanity. She started traveling and speaking to many people about her experience approximately nine years after liberation when she was thirty years old in 1955. She traveled to multiple public schools and events to share her story to others. Later in 1995 a documentary was produced by Kary Antholis and co produced by HBO and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
The documentary, One Survivor Remembers is all about her six year notable experience in the holocaust, all the way from losing her family to liberation, it was basically a film version of her autobiography. It was so popular that it received two awards, and Gerda decided to write her own memoir based off of the documentary called, All But My Life. The memoir contains her concentration camp experiences, losing her family and friends, the death march, and liberation. She has been recognized by Daemen College in New York for being a journalist, motivational speaker, lecturer, and author. They even gave her a Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters Degree. She has been traveling and speaking about her experiences for about sixty years of her life and is still currently 94 years old.
One of her most famous quotes is ‘To have freedom, family, and love are the greatest gifts of all.’ She was blessed with the opportunity to make it out of the holocaust alive, although she had not made it out with her family alongside her, she met Kurt and started a family of her own. She said one of her biggest motivations while in the war was the need to have children. She says that she feels blessed to have three children and eight grandchildren today who are healthy and alive.
Wrapping up, Gerda Weissmann Klein survived the holocaust with a tragic but motivational and inspiring story to tell. Gerda Weissmann Klein was one of the most influential Americans after the holocaust because of her inspirational story and experience, huge impact, and how she is still continuing to influence people today. It is sad to think that these cruel events killed huge amounts of people and is still playing a big role in the history of so many families today. It devastated and hurt millions of people in history and you only survived if you were lucky enough.