Las Vegas Sun

September 19, 2019

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Lecturer on Holocaust and tolerance, Klein dies at 81

As a teenage Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany, Kurt Klein worked three jobs a day -- dishwasher, cigar store clerk and printer's assistant -- to raise money so he could send for his parents to join him in the United States.

"He would not even take the bus to work but rather saved that nickel so he could send it to his parents," said granddaughter Julie Simon, a former longtime Las Vegan now living in Austin, Texas.

Klein's parents made their way to France and were on the verge of receiving the visas to come to America when they were captured, deported back to Germany and killed at the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Ironically, Klein, as an American soldier, would liberate his future wife, Holocaust author and subject of an Academy Award-winning documentary, Gerda Weissmann Klein. He would also help save from Russian hands Nazi industrialist Oskar Schindler, who was immortalized in the film "Schindler's List."

"That he could not save his parents was a burden he bore not with anger and resentment but with gratefulness that this country offered him so much -- so many opportunities," Simon said of Klein.

Klein died April 19 in Guatemala while on a lecture tour. He was 81.

The Kleins lectured many times in Las Vegas since the 1970s. They had been scheduled to speak Monday at Coronado High School in Henderson and today at the Meadows School.

Gerda Klein, whose survival story was told in a 1995 HBO-produced documentary "One Survivor Remembers," which won an Oscar and an Emmy, has canceled speaking engagements until further notice. Services were last week in Phoenix. Klein was a resident of Scottsdale, Ariz.

"It may have appeared that Kurt just stayed in the background and encouraged Gerda, but he did so much more than that and had just as compelling a story to tell," Jewish Federation of Las Vegas official Edythe Katz Yarchever said.

"He was a warm, loving man, who addressed not only students but also their parents about tolerance, diversity, understanding and hope."

The Kleins last year published "The Hours After," which they co-wrote from love letters written before their 1946 marriage in Paris. Last May they spoke at The Mirage as guests of the Jewish Federation of Las Vegas.

The couple met on May 7, 1945, when he was a 25-year-old Army lieutenant and she was an emaciated death camp survivor weighing 68 pounds and just one day shy of her 21st birthday.

Gerda was one of 118 survivors of 2,000 women who had been forced to make a grueling 350-mile death march from a slave camp at Grunberg, Poland, to Volary, Czechoslovakia.

Also during the war, Klein helped arrange for a group of suspected German soldiers to surrender to American troops rather than risk capture by the Russians. Forty-two years after the war Klein learned that one of them was Schindler, who had saved the lives of hundreds of his Jewish factory workers.

After the war the Kleins settled in Buffalo, N.Y., where he was a printer and she was a longtime children's issues columnist for the Buffalo News. After retirement, the couple moved to Scottsdale and established the Gerda and Kurt Klein Foundation to perpetuate the lessons learned from the Holocaust.

Born in Waldorf, Germany, Klein was forced to quit school when the Nazis increased their stranglehold on the country. He taught himself English and emigrated to the United States in 1937.

In addition to his wife, Klein is survived by two daughters, Leslie Simon of Las Vegas and Vivian Ullman of Phoenix; a son, James Klein of Washington, D.C.; and eight grandchildren.