Holocaust survivor and former Buffalo resident Gerda Weissmann Klein addressed the United Nations General Assembly in observance of the first International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Jan. 27.
Klein is the author of "All But My Life," a memoir describing her experiences as a teenager during the Holocaust. She was 15 when she was torn from her family during the Nazi invasion of Poland. She travels around the world telling the story of her six-year ordeal under the Nazi regime. "All But My Life" is required reading at countless high schools across the country and has become a classic during its 47 years in print.
NeXt recently talked to Klein over the phone about her experiences.
>Q: What do you want young people to take away from your lectures and "All But My Life"?
A: Well, first of all I don't want this [the Holocaust] ever to be forgotten and you certainly hope history will not repeat itself. I also want them to find the feeling of appreciation for the things which we have today, what freedom is like, which I treasure above all.
>Q: Do teenagers find it hard to relate to the Holocaust, it being over 60 years ago?
Absolutely not, I don't find that at all. As a matter of fact, you know, we have some letters, and we find the same things that kids wrote 20 years ago they write today.
>Q: What happened when you spoke at Columbine High School in 1999?
A: I have spoken there quite often; I've gone back to Columbine many, many times.
>Q: Was it different than speaking at other schools after the shooting?
A: Well, certainly, certainly, you know they were deeply wounded, they knew what it was like to have seen their friends killed, you know it was on Hitler's birthday, Adolf Hitler, when Columbine happened. And so it was very traumatic for the young people, they desperately needed assurance, that they're going to be happy again, to laugh again, you know.
>Q: What were the students' and parents' responses to your visits?
A: Well I'm still corresponding with some of them and this is when we established the Heart of Columbine which was an organization that we thought would celebrate or observe that particular date in paying back some of the goodness which they received from all over the world and they thought that it would be very healing, you know.
>Q: "All But My Life" has been in print for almost 50 years. Are there any changes that you would like to make?
A: No, as a matter of fact, I never reread it. I picked it up occasionally to look at something, but that's all.
>Q: You've been a guest on the "Oprah Winfrey" show twice, "60 minutes", and CBS News' "Sunday Morning." What is being on these shows like?
A: Well, you know on Oprah, it's particularly kind and genuine and real and yes I very much enjoy being with her. It all depends, by and large very positive experiences, but they can also be negative you know, but I did not have too much of that at all so I would say by and large it's nice to go on there.
There is nothing I enjoy more than talking to young people and them giving me the assurance that this [the Holocaust] will not be forgotten and that in your hands is the building of a better world for my grandchildren.
Ryan Brown is a junior at Clarence.
Find more information about Gerda Klein's story online at www.ushmm.org/museum/exhibit/online/phis tories/phi_individuals_kurt_gerda_klein_uu.htm.