Gerda Weissmann Klein is more than a Holocaust survivor. She is a teacher.
In 6 years of Nazi captivity, she suffered unbearable cruelty that transformed her. Once a young girl with wistful dreams, she became a woman raped by hatred and left to rot. But those are merely the facts of her life; not the essence.
Today, Gerda lives a gentle and purposeful life in the world that betrayed her, yet she breathes optimism and speaks of acceptance. Listening to her words, one is struck by the idea that she is a profound gift to a modern global family that barely remembers the tragic history we call the Holocaust.
Filled with a bounty of lessons, Gerda picks each as though a flower in her garden, deciding which vignette will touch the humanity in her audience today. This day, Gerda spoke of being stripped naked of all hope, no longer daring to dream of freedom, family, liberty, friendship, compassion, love.
“We were brought to our most primitive state and all we could pray for was . . . a potato.”
Now in her 80’s, she speaks with clarity and conviction that belie her age. Once liberated, she decided to use the horrific experience to stop other human atrocities by teaching tolerance. In fact, she devoted her life to it.
Few of us have the capacity to comprehend the life that Gerda lived, what she lost, how she survived, or how she filled her empty shell with tenderness, devotion, and hope. She brings a new dimension to the word: Survivor.
Each of us is a survivor of some obstacle or other; each with a lesson. The question is what to do with it. Before us is a model, Gerda Weissmann Klein – one woman who became the best of mankind because she survived the worst of it.
Note: Annette, a survivor of ovarian and breast cancer, has dealt with numerous recurrences, yet lives in a state of unwavering optimism.