Gerda Weissmann Klein, Holocaust survivor, dies at 97

PHOENIX — Gerda Weissmann Klein, a Holocaust survivor who wrote about her ordeal and later received a Presidential Medal of Freedom, will be commemorated at a memorial on May Day after her death this month.

Klein died April 3 in Phoenix, where she had lived since 1985. She was 97. His granddaughter Alysa Cooper confirmed the death but did not give a cause.

Klein was born on May 8, 1924 to Hélène and Julius Weissmann in Bielsko, Poland.

She was a teenager when the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939 and the family was forced to live in the basement of their home for three years. Klein’s parents were later deported to Auschwitz concentration camp and she never saw them or her brother again.

Klein spent the next three years in Nazi camps. She met her future husband, Army Lt. Kurt Klein, when American soldiers liberated her and others from an abandoned bicycle factory in Volary, Czechoslovakia on May 7, 1945, the eve of his 21st birthday.

At the time, she weighed only 68 pounds (30.8 kg) and her hair was prematurely gray.

Married in Paris on June 18, 1946, the couple began a new life in Buffalo, New York, and raised three children: Vivian, Leslie and James.

Klein described his wartime experiences in his memoir “All But My Life”, which was widely used in high school and college curricula.

President Bill Clinton appointed Klein to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Council in 1997, and President Barack Obama awarded him the 2010 Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

Last year, she was inducted into the Arizona Women’s Hall of Fame.

Besides her children, she is survived by eight grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren.

A private funeral took place.

His family is planning a virtual celebration of his life on May 1 at noon PT. Details will be announced by Citizenship Counts, a non-profit organization she founded with Cooper, her granddaughter.

Lola R. McClure