White House Honors Holocaust Survivor With Highest U.S. Civilian Award

Gerda Weissmann Klein, 86, author of the WWII-era memoir 'All But My Life,' is one of the 15 future recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Holocaust survivor Gerda Weissmann Klein is one of 15 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom – the United States' highest civilian honor, the White House announced on Wednesday.

Gerda Weissmann Klein AP 2005

The presidential Medal of Freedom is presented to those who have made special contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.

 Weissmann-Klein, 86, is the author of eight books, including her memoir detailing her survival of Nazi persecution, “All But My Life”, which became years later served as the basis for the Academy-Award-winning documentary “One Survivor Remembers”.

An official White House statement had this to say of Weissmann-Klein's achievements in the face of hardship: "After Nazi Germany took over her homeland of Poland, Klein was separated from both her parents: they 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 minority who survived the forced journey. In May 1945, Klein was liberated by forces of the United States Army in Volary, Czechoslovakia, and later married Army Lieutenant Kurt Klein, who liberated her camp," the announcement added.

Referring to Weissmann-Klein's personal accomplishments since arriving in the United States, the announcement lauded the Holocaust survivor's founding of "Citizenship Counts, an organization that teaches students to cherish the value of their American citizenship."

"Klein has spoken to audiences of all ages and faith around the world about the value of freedom and has dedicated her life to promoting tolerance and understanding among all people," the statement said.

The announcement signed by U.S. President Barack Obama, stated that this year's 15 Medal of Freedom honorees came "from a broad range of backgrounds and they’ve excelled in a broad range of fields, but all of them have lived extraordinary lives that have inspired us, enriched our culture, and made our country and our world a better place."

"I look forward to awarding them this honor,” the U.S. president added..

The awards will be presented at a White House ceremony early next year. Among the other recipients are also the 41-th US President, George H. W. Bush, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, author, poet and civil right activist Maya Angelou, investor and philanthropist Warren Buffett, legendary cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and former Boston Celtics great Bill Russell.