WMU News

Series includes Holocaust survivor's story

Nov. 10, 2000

KALAMAZOO -- Nationally known author and historian Gerda Weissman Klein will tell her story of surviving the Holocaust during a presentation at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 14, in the West Ballroom of Western Michigan University's Bernhard Center.

Klein's talk, "All But My Life: Holocaust Survivor," is part of the WMU Keystone Leadership Society's 2000-01 speaker/workshop series. The series began Sept. 20 and will continue through March 21. All talks and workshops are free and open to the public.

In 1939 at age 15, Klein' s life changed forever when German troops invaded her home in Beilsko, Poland. Her brother Arthur was ordered to a labor camp and she was separated from her parents and sent to a slave-labor camp. She never saw her family again.

Klein spent the next three years in a succession of slave-labor campus, 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.

Despite such atrocities, she never lost the will to survive, and in 1945, was finally liberated by American troops. Among them was the man who would become her husband, Kurt Klein, an American intelligence officer who had fled Nazi Germany in the 1930s.

Klein's account of living through the Holocaust is documented in her autobiography, "All But My Life," which has been in print for 40 years in 40 editions. It depicts her view of the dark years of the Holocaust and has become required reading in some U.S. school districts.

The Kleins' story has been portrayed in the film "Testimony," which regularly is shown at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. The 1995 HBO documentary, "One Survivor Remembers," in which Gerda recounts some of her wartime experiences, won an Emmy Award, two Ace Awards and an Oscar. The Kleins recently completed "The Hours After: Letters of Love and Longing in War' s Aftermath." Scheduled for release in January 2000, it features the actual correspondence between Gerda and Kurt Klein following the war.

A presidential appointee to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, Gerda lectures throughout the country and is active in a variety of charitable organizations. Her constant striving for the preservation of human rights and dignity has earned her five doctor of humane letters degrees, along with countless other honors. Her recent television appearances include "60 Minutes," "Oprah" and "CBS Sunday Morning."

Together with her husband, she founded the Gerda and Kurt Klein Foundation. The foundation became operational in January 2000 and promotes tolerance for differences, respect for others and the empowerment of students through education and community service.

"Our dream is to create the opportunity for young people to understand injustice in the world and translate that understanding into positive action," the foundation's Web site says. "We want to make the world a more positive place for today's young people, and for the future. We hope that the sharing of our story, and the projects we have undertaken to help others, will unleash the energy of young people who can make a difference in their future."

The Keystone Leadership Society is a student organization that helps WMU undergraduates enhance their leadership skills and personal growth. It offers students a variety of opportunities to build skills, serve as campus and community leaders, and receive recognition for outstanding leadership achievements.

For this year's speaker/workshop series, the society has scheduled three additional presentations:

A speaker still to be announced for WMU's annual Martin Luther King Jr. Convocation in January, which is part of the University's observance of the slain civil rights leader's birthday.

"One More River to Cross: Black and Gay in America," by Keith Boykins, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 21 in the Bernhard Center's West Ballroom. Boykins, a special assistant to President Bill Clinton, speaks on equality for men, women, gays and lesbians as well as on how to deal with discrimination and prejudice.

"Male/Female Different Communication Styles" by Judy C. Pearson, March 21 at a time and place to be announced later. Pearson is president of the National Communications Association and renown in the study of male and female communication styles.

Media contact: Jeanne Baron, 616 387-8400, jeanne.baron@wmich.edu

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