WWll, holocaust presentation set

Posted: Tuesday, March 25, 2008


  Gerda Klein

Gerda Klein

Gerda Weissmann Klein weighed only 68 pounds when she was liberated from Nazi forces in May 1945.

It had been nearly six years since German troops had invaded Klein's home in Bielsko, Poland, and in that time she endured three years in slave camps and a 350-mile death march that subjected 2,000 women to starvation, exposure and arbitrary execution.

It was on the day that Klein was liberated that she met her late husband, Kurt Klein, an American GI.

In 1946, Klein emigrated to the United States to begin a new life. She has been speaking and writing about her experiences as a Jewish woman during Hitler's regime for more than 50 years.

She has spoken in every state in the U.S. except for Alaska, but the map will be complete this weekend when she heads north to speak in Moose Pass and Anchorage.

"(Alaska is) the only state in the Union I have not been to, so now this is going to make it full," Klein said.

Klein travels to share her story and the plight of the Jewish people during the Nazi era.

"I think most of the time people do want to know about the past, to know how to build a better world," Klein said. "Unless you heed the lessons of history, you're often condemned to repeat."

Klein's account of her experience during the Holocaust is told in her autobiography, "All But My Life." The book was the inspiration for the Oscar-winning documentary "One Survivor Remembers."

"(Winning an Oscar is) pretty nice," she said. "I've also spoken to the United Nations, which I consider that a far greater honor than getting an Oscar."

Klein's trip to Alaska can be attributed to Erin Knotek, a Moose Pass resident who has been interested in the Holocaust since she was a teenager.

"It's always been something that has interested me," Knotek said. "Especially the survivor stories. (It's amazing to see) the things that she went through in the slave labor camps and then to do such wonderful things (later in life). ... I'm not Jewish, I just believe in rights, even the smallest of rights."

It was after her visit to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., last summer that Knotek decided to bring a survivor to the area this year.

At the time, she had one Jewish friend in Anchorage who eventually put her in touch with Bill Myers, a history professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage who teaches about the Holocaust. Myers had been using one of Klein's books in class and recommended her as a speaker.

"For some time I've been wanting to bring a Holocaust survivor to our school," Knotek said. "We live in this great little mountain community, but sometimes at the expense that kids are naive about things. I feel that it's important that it's not forgotten, that it's always remembered so that history does not repeat itself."

After her trip to D.C., Knotek founded the Moose Pass Holocaust Survivor Program and raised $2,500 with the help of Moose Pass residents and UAA to arrange Klein's visit.

Since the project began, it has raised awareness in social activism throughout the community.

Moose Pass School has been showing weekly movies centered around the idea of activism this week's will be "One Survivor Remembers" and is setting up a scavenger hunt for food to be donated to the Moose Pass food pantry. Two book clubs in Seward also are reading Klein's autobiography.

Knotek said she believes activism is important, even on a small scale.

"I've been taught at a young age to take care of one another. And one another doesn't just mean your immediate family, it means your community. We all need to be involved, even on the smallest level. ... If something's not right, you need to say that," she said.

Klein will speak at Moose Pass School at 7 p.m. Saturday. A community potluck will begin at 6 p.m.

She also will speak in Anchorage at 7 p.m. Sunday at Congregation Beth Sholom and Monday at 7 p.m. at UAA's Rasmunson Hall.

All three events are free.

Hannahlee Allers can be reached at hannahlee.allers@peninsulaclarion.com.

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