Kurt Klein (1920-2002)
“… Along with your minds, I would ask that you educate your hearts so you will learn to have better understanding of others who may be different from you, and that you will never allow hatred and intolerance to take over the way they did in the past.” – Kurt Klein
Kurt Klein was born and raised in Walldorf, Germany. After Hitler came to power, the Kleins began to realize they did not have much future in Germany. His sister emigrated to the United States, and 17-year-old Kurt followed her in 1937. The next year they were joined in America by their brother. During the Kristallnacht attacks on German Jews, the Kleins’ home was vandalized. Later Klein’s parents were forced to move into a room over a stable, and in 1940 they were deported to a detention camp in France. The children tried to obtain visas that would enable their parents to join them in America, but they were hampered by bureaucratic red tape and a shortage of money. When they finally succeeded in obtaining the visas in 1942, their parents had already been deported to Eastern Europe.
Kurt Klein was drafted in 1942, and served in the U.S. Army during the war as an intelligence officer. After the end of the war, he learned that his parents had died at Auschwitz. He married Gerda Weissmann in 1946, and brought her to live with him in Buffalo, New York, where he operated a printing business. Kurt Klein frequently travels with his wife to lecture about their experiences during the war. He is also featured in the PBS series, America and the Holocaust: Deceit and Indifference.
Reprinted from: Escaping the Final Solution, McDougal Littell
Kurt Klein, WWII Veteran Who Helped Spread Hope
With the simplest of gestures – a door held open, a gentle voice – Kurt Klein and Gerda Weissmann brought a sense of humanity to a scene of horror.
He was a US Army lieutenant. She, one day shy of her 21st birthday, at 68 pounds, with gray hair, at the end of a 300-mile death march, was a Holocaust survivor.
Their first encounter outside a booby-trapped warehouse in Europe on May 7, 1945, blossomed into a 57-year love affair with a tireless mission: to battle intolerance and hunger and to turn heartache into hope for generations ranging from Holocaust victims to Columbine High School survivors.
Mr. Klein died Friday, April 19, 2002, in Guatemala on a lecture tour to deliver their message of hope. He was 81.
“Their life together was like a fairy tale,” their friend from Buffalo, Ruth Kahn Stovroff, told The Buffalo News. “They carried a message around the world… how you can turn any horrible degree of evil into good, with enough courage and faith.”
Following Mr. Klein’s retirement in the late 1980s, the couple moved to Scottsdale, Ariz., established the Gerda and Kurt Klein Foundation, and spread their message through an international lecture tour.
Their story was also retold in a variety of settings. Gerda Klein was the subject of HBO’s Academy-Award winning documentary “One Survivor Remembers,” in which she delivers a quiet, personal, shattering account of her three years in a concentration camp. She also wrote a book about her experiences and liberation called “All But My Life,” for which Mr. Klein was the editor. The two are featured prominently in videotapes shown at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC.
Born in Germany, Kurt Klein was forced to leave school shortly after his bar mitzvah as conditions worsened for Jews. He taught himself English by reading about America, and when he was 16, his parents sent him to the United States.
Mr. Klein arrived in Buffalo with $10 in his pocket and worked as a typesetter, dishwasher, and cigar store clerk to help pay for his parents’ passage from Germany. They made it as far as France, but efforts to get US visas were snarled by red tape and a lack of interest by US Embassy officials, and the war caught up with them. They were sent to Auschwitz, where they died.
Mr. Klein’s efforts to save them from the Nazis were recounted in the PBS firm “America and the Holocaust: Deceit and Indifference.”
Mr. Klein joined the US Army and fought against his homeland. As the war dragged to a close and hundreds of thousands of Germans began surrendering, US intelligence agents tapped his ability to speak German.
He was on patrol when he heard that a group of concentration camp survivors had been found near a warehouse. That group included Gerda Weissmann.
After three years in a German concentration camp, Gerda had been forced to march with 2,000 other camp survivors toward Czechoslovakia. By early May, when SS officers abandoned them in a booby-trapped warehouse and joined the German retreat, only 150 of them were still alive.
“All of a sudden, I saw a strange car coming down the hill, no longer green, not bearing a swastika, but a white star,” Mrs. Klein later said of the US jeep.
When Lieutenant Klein walked up to her, he asked if anyone spoke German or English. Her response was a warning.
“We are Jewish, you know,” she said in German.
She said the soldier hesitated. “Then his own voice sort of betrayed his own emotion and he said, ‘So am I,’” she later recounted. “It was the greatest hour of my life.
“Then he asked an incredible question: ‘May I see the other ladies?’
“It was a form of address I hadn’t heard in six years. Then he held the door for me and let me precede him and in that gesture restored me to humanity.”
When she took him inside to stand among the sick and dying young women, she made an encompassing gesture with her hand and said, “Noble be man, merciful and good.”
The soldier recognized the words. “What shocked me was that she could recall the opening lines of a poem by Goethe under those unspeakable conditions,” he recalled.
In addition to bringing his future wife to safety, Lieutenant Klein also helped arrange safe passage into American hands for a group of suspected German prisoners who turned out to be concentration camp escapees.
Only in 1987, when one of the prisoners wrote him, did Mr. Klein learn that among the group he saved was a person who became famous decades later for his own heroics. His name was Oskar Schindler.
Associated Press obituary
April 25, 2002