Holocaust speaker shares memories at Viterbo
By KATE SCHOTT La Crosse Tribune
Gerda Weissman Klein remembers when a potato made her a winner.
She was in a slave labor camp, waiting in line with a rusty metal bowl, and hoping that by the time she reached the front of the line, there would still be soup left and, if she was lucky, a potato.
Recounting such memories is what helped “One Survivor Remembers,” a 39-minute film in which Klein shared her Holocaust experiences, win an Oscar for Best Short Documentary in 1996.
“I don’t want my grandchildren to live in a world where a potato is more valuable than an Oscar. But I don’t want to live in a world where an Oscar makes us forget there are people who don’t have a potato,” she said.
Klein was at Viterbo University on Monday night as part of the D.B. Reinhart Institute for Ethics in Leadership 2005-06 lecture series, “Perspectives on the Holocaust.” She spoke to a crowd that spilled out of the main theater of the fine arts building and packed the lobby, where people stood to watch her on closed-circuit television.
Klein was born to a Jewish family in Bielsko, Poland. When she was 15, Germany invaded her country. Klein lived in a ghetto until 1942, when she was separated from her family and sent to a forced-labor camp. She spent the next three years in a succession of labor camps until she was forced to walk in a 350-mile death march in which 2,000 women were subjected to exposure, starvation and arbitrary execution. Only about 120 survived.
Gerda married Kurt Klein, one of the American soldiers who liberated them. She recounted the day they met, when Kurt called her a lady and held a door open for her.
“In that beautiful, symbolic moment, he restored me to humanity again,” she said.
Klein now travels the world, hoping that if she shares her story with each new generation of “spiritual heirs,” they can prevent such atrocities from occurring again. Ten days ago, she addressed the United Nations on the same topic.
She also encouraged the audience to cherish the freedom many Americans take for granted: food, a place to sleep, access to education and the ability to disagree with the government and not be arrested.
“You have such treasures,” she said. “You are sitting on treasures much of the world envies.”
Story originally printed in the La Crosse Tribune or online at http://www.lacrossetribune.com
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