Gerda Weissmann Klein on American Citizenship

The Holocaust survivor, author and Medal of Freedom winner discusses liberation day and cherished freedoms

Gerda Weissmann Klein, founder of Citizenship Counts, speaks to new citizens and students at a naturalization ceremony at the Maryland School in Phoenix, Arizona. (Kathryn Deschamps)

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I remember, unfortunately, my husband and I were in Washington on 9/11. To me, this was the most crushing thing. We went and stood at the Capitol. There was such oneness. I experienced the same thing in Washington when I was privileged to get the award. You didn’t know who was a Republican and who was a Democrat. We were all Americans. We were all delighted to be in the White House.

To you, what does it mean to be an American?

Every so often, I step back and say, “Oh my God, look where I am,” particularly when I watch television or read the news and see what is happening in other countries.

When I came to this country, I did not know one person, except my husband. I couldn’t speak English, and what this country has given me in my lifetime is something that is so unbelievable that I want to devote the rest of my life, whatever there is left, to give back to my country what it has given me, and to teach our young people about the greatness of America. Maybe you think I am waving the flag too much, but I am proud to do that.

By no stretch of the imagination could I have thought of all the things that have been given to me. I mean, why me? Only in America. I don’t think it could have happened in any other country.


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