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Holocaust Survivor, Humanitarian, Presidential Appointee to Speak in Austin

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posted: Friday October 30, 2009

Event: Gerda Weissmann Klein to speak at The University of Texas at Austin

When: Thursday, Nov. 5, 7 p.m.

Where: Texas Hillel, 2105 San Antonio St.

Background: Renowned author and Holocaust survivor Gerda Weissmann Klein is recognized throughout the world for the emotional acceptance speech she delivered in 1996 when the HBO documentary about her life, "One Survivor Remembers," received an Academy Award.

Klein was born and raised in Bielsko, Poland and was 15 years old when German soldiers invaded her hometown in September 1939. Her brother was immediately taken away and she and her parents were forced to live in the basement of their home and then in shabby ghetto quarters for three years. In 1942, Klein was separated from her parents and sent to a series forced-labor camps for the next three years. Her entire family perished in the Holocaust.

Klein was liberated by two American Army intelligence officers in May 1945. One of them, a Jewish lieutenant named Kurt Klein, became her husband of 56 years.

After the couple settled in Buffalo, N.Y., Gerda Klein became active with several charitable organizations and began to speak about her experiences during the Holocaust. In the decades since then, she has lectured throughout the world and has addressed the United Nations' General Assembly. She has met with multiple U.S. presidents and Israeli prime ministers and authored eight books. The Kleins' story is portrayed in a permanent exhibit at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and, in 1997, President Clinton appointed Gerda Klein to the Holocaust Museum's Governing Council.

Gerda Klein has committed her life to promoting tolerance and acceptance among all people. In 1998, The Gerda and Kurt Klein Foundation was founded to empower students through education and community service. Last year, she founded Citizenship Counts, a nonprofit organization that teaches middle and high school students about the rights and responsibilities of American citizenship and promotes patriotism across the country.

Klein's granddaughter, Julie Simon, lives in Austin and is a former reporter with KEYE-TV. Her first great-grandchild, Elias Kurt, is named for the late Kurt Klein, who died in 2002, and is a native Austinite.

Thursday's speech is sponsored by the Schusterman Center for Jewish Studies and Texas Hillel.

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