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February 15, 2011

Holocaust survivor awarded Medal of Freedom

Filed under: Holocaust, World War II — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 2:03 pm

I was watching TV today when President Obama was giving out the Medal of Freedom awards to 14 people.  As soon as I heard him say the name Gerda Weissmann Klein, I immediately thought that she must be a “Holocaust survivor” and I was right.  President Obama gave a short speech about her story, including the fact that she had survived “a 350 mile march.”  He didn’t say where the march started, nor where it ended, but he did call it a “death march.”

Here are the exact words that President Obama used to introduce Gerda Weissmann Klein:

By the time she was 21, Gerda Klein had spent six years living under Nazi rule — three of them in concentration camps.  Her parents and brother had been taken away.  Her best friend had died in her arms during a 350-mile death march.  And she weighed only 68 pounds when she was found by American forces in an abandoned bicycle factory.  But Gerda survived.  She married the soldier who rescued her.  And ever since — as an author, a historian and a crusader for tolerance — she has taught the world that it is often in our most hopeless moments that we discover the extent of our strength and the depth of our love.

“I pray you never stand at any crossroads in your own lives,” she says, “but if you do, if the darkness seems so total, if you think there is no way out, remember, never ever give up.”    

I did a little research on the Internet and learned that, in 1940, Gerda and her family were sent to a Ghetto in her home town of Bielsko, Poland. From the  Bielsko ghetto, she was sent in 1942 to work in a textile mill in Bolkenhain, Silesia.  At that time Silesia was part of the Greater German Reich; Auschwitz was also in Silesia.

Gerda’s parents were sent from the Bielsko Ghetto to the Auschwitz death camp at the same time that Gerda was sent to a transit camp, from where she was then sent, first to the labor camp in Bolkenhain, and later to labor camps in Märzdorf, Landeshut and Gruenberg, Germany.

On January 29, 1945, Gerda started on a 350 mile “death march” that began at the Gruenberg labor camp and went through Dresden, Chemnitz, Zwickau, Reichenbach, and Plauen in Germany before ending finally in Volary in Czechoslovakia; out of 4,000 women on the march, she was one of only 120 women who survived.  Note that the march started two days after Auschwitz was liberated by Soviet troops on January 27, 1945.

Gerda Weissman Klein never had the experience of going through a gas chamber selection at Auschwitz, but at the Bolkenhain labor camp, she had become ill and had foolishly gone to the camp hospital.  As every student of the Holocaust knows, there were selections made among the sick prisoners and those who were not fit for work were sent to the gas chamber.

Gerda told a group of students in Ann Arbor, Michigan, that a German female supervisor, Frau Kuegler, had saved her life.  It seems that Frau Kuegler knew that an SS man was coming to inspect the prisoners in the textile factory in Bolkenhain, and that Gerda was in danger of being selected for the gas chamber because she was sick. So Frau Kuegler dragged Gerda out of the hospital and took her back to the textile factory, started her loom for her and set her in front of it. Gerda said that she was delirious from fever, but she was saved from the gas chamber because she had “passed the inspection.”

Gerda was liberated by the American Army in May 1945, and emigrated to the United States in 1946.  She married Kurt Klein, a Jewish soldier in the American Army, who liberated her.

1 Comment

  1. This story is famous, it’s all over the place. It’s an “institution.” But it’s also embroidered with the usual exaggerations. “President” Obama is putty in the hands of the Holocaust Industry.

    This man Obama told his own lying story about his uncle liberating Buchenwald, which turned out not to be true. Everyone who watched this ceremony should also watch the video by Eric Hunt at … to get a little balance.

    Comment by Skeptic — February 17, 2011 @ 6:49 pm

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