WASHINGTON, D.C. – Holocaust survivor Gerda Weissman Klein was among fifteen people to be named this week by President Barack Obama as recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The Medal of Freedom is the Nation’s highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors. The awards will be presented at a White House ceremony early next year.
The author of several books about her experiences, Gerda Weissmann Klein was separated from both her parents following the Nazi takeover homeland of Poland. Her parents were sent to Auschwitz and she to a series of labor and concentration camps. In 1945, she was sent on a forced 350-mile death march to avoid the advance of Allied forces. She was one of the few who survived the forced journey.
In May 1945, Klein was liberated by forces of the U.S. Army in Volary, Czechoslovakia. She later married Army Lieutenant Kurt Klein, who liberated her camp. A naturalized citizen, she recently founded Citizenship Counts, an organization that teaches students to cherish the value of their American citizenship. Klein has spoken to audiences of all ages and faiths around the world about the value of freedom and has dedicated her life to promoting tolerance and understanding among all people.
Among the other Medal of Freedom recipients are President George H. W. Bush, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, author Maya Angelou, industrialist Warren Buffett, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, baseball Hall of Famer Stan Musial.