My Most Touching Fee

Remembering Holocaust survivor Gerda Klein.

My Most Touching Fee

Years ago, when I was representing the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, I met Gerda Weissmann Klein, who died last week. She’d survived the horrors of imprisonment for six years in Nazi concentration camps. Her family lived in Bielsko, a Polish town near the Czech border, when the Germans arrived in 1939. Her relatives were all eventually killed, but Gerda was captured and sent to a series of work camps.

In 1945, she and her fellow prisoners were forced on a months-long march through ice and snow into Czechoslovakia, where they were kept in an abandoned factory before being liberated by Allied troops.

On her 21st birthday, Gerda was awakened by the sound of an approaching Jeep driven by two American soldiers. According to her Washington Post obituary, Gerda was ill at the time, weighed just 68 pounds, and had hair white from malnutrition. She hadn’t bathed in three years.

She approached one of the soldiers and said to him, “You know we are Jewish.”

“I am, too,” he replied. That soldier, Kurt Klein, would become her husband.

Gerda wrote books and later, under the auspices of a foundation she and Kurt started, spoke to student and other groups about resilience, tolerance, and other traits.

An HBO documentary based on her memoir All But My Life won an Oscar. At the award ceremony, Gerda spoke in emotional words that left the audience in respectful silence. I watched her presentation and noted some of them:

“I have been in a place for six incredible years where winning meant a crust of bread and to live another day. Since the blessed day of my liberation, I have asked the question, ‘Why am I here?’

“I am no better. In my mind’s eye, I see those years and days and those who never lived to see the magic of a boring evening at home.

“On their behalf, I wish to thank you for honoring their memory, and you cannot do it in any better way than when you return to your homes tonight to realize that each of you who know the joy of freedom are winners.”

I represented Gerda as her literary agent on several memoirs, and we stayed in touch over the years. When one of her projects required some legal work, she asked why I hadn’t sent her a bill for my services. I replied that helping her was enough compensation; she was someone I revered.

Months later, I received in the mail a letter and certificate from the International Astronomical Union, along with a photograph of the star that had been named for me at Gerda’s request.

Ronald Goldfarb is a Washington, DC, attorney, author, and literary agent. His newest book, written as R.L. Sommer, is Courting Justice.

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