Holocaust survivor has a message of hope
By TERRY RINDFLEISCH/La Crosse Tribune
A young woman asked Gerda Weissman Klein about how the young generation could have hope for the future.
In taking questions after her talk at Viterbo University last week, the 81-year-old Holocaust survivor replied, “How can you not have hope. Look around at what you have.”
When Gerda was 15, Germany invaded her country, Poland. Gerda spent three years in labor camps, until she was forced to walk in a 350-mile death march. Of the 2,000 women forced to take that march, only 120 survived.
Gerda’s presentation — part of the Perspectives on the Holocaust series — really was about health.
She said we must have hope because most of us have the four things that matter most in life — health, family, home and freedom — all the things that were taken from her as a girl.
Having good health, a healthy family, a home and our freedoms are all we need to exist and be happy, Gerda said.
Those are the things we should be grateful for and cherish.
Richard Kyte, director of Viterbo’s ethics institute, said Gerda told him that while she was on her honeymoon, a friend of her husband’s remarked that President Truman was stupid. Gerda said she couldn’t sleep that night because she thought her husband’s friend would be arrested for making that such a statement.
Kyte said he also was impressed with Gerda’s challenge to go home and be grateful for what you have, not what you don’t have. “She has an immigrant’s perspective on freedom that we don’t have,” Kyte said.
Tom Thibodeau, a Viterbo religious studies teacher, said Gerda is a woman of “heartfelt gratitude,” who looks back and cherishes a boring night at home — she doing her homework, her dad smoking his pipe and her mom doing the dishes.
“We don’t have that deep sense of gratitude,” Thibodeau said.
Earl Madary, a Viterbo religious studies teacher, said he liked Gerda’s charge that if we exercise our freedoms, then we won’t give up hope.
Gerda said a child asked the best question she has ever been asked: “Why didn’t you write your congressman to help you?”
She asked the audience to stand up for their rights and beliefs — to exercise their freedoms. Support the war, protest the war and to make their feelings known.
Gerda also asked for tolerance.
We live in a somewhat intolerant time. If you speak out loudly against the war in Iraq, you must be unpatriotic and against the soldiers. No one I know is against our troops. But Gerda would say it’s our patriotic duty to support or oppose the war — and speak out.
Gerda said we need a healthy perspective — respect the views of others and realize our view may not be right.
Let’s all work on adopting a healthier perspective. Be more tolerant, accepting and open. Thanks, Gerda.
Terry Rindfleisch can be reached at (608) 791-8227 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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