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Gerda Weissmann Klein: An Outstanding American by Choice

Cross-posted from The Beacon

By: Alejandro Mayorkas, Director - U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)

On February 15, 2011, in recognition of her life’s work, President Obama awarded Gerda Weissmann Klein the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, in a White House ceremony.

Several weeks ago, on January 20, it was my distinct honor to meet Ms. Weissmann Klein and recognize her as an Outstanding American by Choice in a special naturalization ceremony at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota. The Outstanding American by Choice recognition is presented to naturalized U.S. citizens who have demonstrated their commitment to this country through civic participation, professional achievement, and responsible citizenship and commitment to the shared ideals that unite us as Americans.

USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas presents Gerda Weissmann Klein the
Outstanding American by Choice (ABC) recognition. Photo by: USCIS

Gerda Weissmann Klein is just such an individual. She is a humanitarian, author, human rights activist, Holocaust survivor, and proud naturalized citizen.

Gerda Weissmann Klein endured concentration camps and a 350-mile death march in her native Poland to survive the World War II homeless, without family or friends. But her outlook changed when she married U.S. Army Intelligence officer Kurt Klein, her liberator, and immigrated to the United States. Since becoming a citizen, she has dedicated her life to delivering a message of hope, inspiration, love, and humanity. The film version of her autobiography, which chronicled her experiences during the war and coming to America, won the 1995 Academy Award for Best Documentary Short.

Her foundation, the Gerda and Kurt Klein Foundation, promotes tolerance and community service through education programs and has reached more than 11 million students across the globe.

Gerda Weissmann Klein cherishes her American citizenship and the opportunities this country has given her. In that spirit she founded Citizenship Counts, a nonprofit organization with the mission to educate students on the tenets of citizenship, inspire their pride in being American, and encourage them to participate in their community.

Her inspiring charge to us all is best articulated through her own words:
America is a unique, diverse and wondrous country, comprised both of those who know its magnificence as their birthright, and others, like me, who are privileged to call our adopted country ‘our own.’ What we all share is a desire for our families to enjoy America’s boundless opportunities while extending to all our fellow citizens justice and the blessings and freedoms upon which the nation was founded.
For her efforts to foster tolerance, compassion, and understanding, and to promote an appreciation for the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, it was my privilege to recognize Gerda Weissmann Klein as an Outstanding American by Choice.

We at USCIS congratulate Gerda Weissman Klein for her remarkable lifelong achievements to community and country.

Ms. Weissmann Klein speaks about her work at the Outstanding American by Choice ceremony at the Mall of America
Ms. Weissmann Klein speaks about her work at the
Outstanding American by Choice ceremony at the Mall of America
Photo by: USCIS
Published by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Washington, D.C.
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