Gerda Weismann Klein: Amazing Survivor of The Holocaust

July 28, 2011 by Debbie Kerr  
Published in Women

Biographical piece on one of the youngest survivors of the Holocaust.

 

 

At the start of World War II, Gerda Weisman Klein, a young Jewish girl, had no idea that the very fabric of her life would be torn apart.  The United States Holocaust Museum reports that approximately nine million Jews lived in Europe in the 1930s- by 1945, two of every three had been massacred as a result of the Holocaust, the “ring of fire” which tortured and destroyed those the Nazis believed to be inferior or unworthy of life. The German Nazis believed they were racially superior to everyone else hence established themselves as judges, torturers and executioners.  Certain Slavic peoples (Poles, Russians, and others), the handicapped, and Roma (Gypsies) along with Communists, Socialists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and homosexuals also experienced persecution and were often eliminated.  Concentration camps were built throughout much of Europe.  It is estimated the Nazis constructed approximately 15,000 camps in occupied countries.  A number of these were destroyed by the Nazi’s within a few months of operation.

 

Gerda Weismann, her parents and brother Arthur lived in Bielsko, Poland, a town known for its textile production, when the Germans invaded.  At fifteen, she lived a sheltered life, free from want or hardship.  German was Greta’s first language but the section of Germany she lived in was annexed to Poland.  As a result, she spoke Polish, and also learned Latin and French.  She went to a Catholic girl’s school but Jewish instruction was provided.  Her formal education stopped at fifteen, with the invasion of Germany.  A close knit family, they relied on each other for emotional support.  They counted on it; it measured out their days and provided a sacred boundary within which they drew sustenance from each other. 

 

According to her memoir “All but my name”(Klein, 1995), her father had been part owner of a successful fur company but the company had been taken over and looted by the Germans. Because of a heart attack, and the subsequent weakened condition her father had recently experienced, the family opted to remain where they were rather than leave with the majority of Jews in their area. Gerda’s parents wanted the children to go but they would have no part of it; they would stay together and face this war as a family. Under threat of injury or death, Jews were told to wear three yellow stars, on their head, arm, and back, blazing emblems signifying their religious beliefs to one and all.  Torture and potential death faced those caught without the star.  The family had to move into the mildewed and damp basement of their home so the German renter could take over the home and its remaining possessions.  When a call went out for all healthy Jewish men to enlist for a work camp, a terrified yet resigned Arthur signed up. The close-knit family was torn asunder.  They never saw him again.

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