Gerda Klein's understanding of tolerance didn't come easy. The author of several books, including "One Survivor Remembers," lost her entire family in the Holocaust, spent years in Nazi labor camps and was sent on a 350-mile death march by her captors at the end of the war.
Klein, who will speak at the University of Colorado at Boulder on Dec. 8, weighed just 68 pounds when she was liberated by U.S. Army soldier Kurt Klein, the man she would later marry. Together they started the Gerda and Kurt Klein Foundation, which promotes tolerance, respect and empowerment of students through education and community service.
"You know the old motto: Unless you understand the things of the past you may be condemned to repeat them," said Klein, who lived a bucolic life in Poland as a child prior to the country's invasion by German occupying forces. "We had hoped that at the end of World War II and with the establishment of the United Nations that we would see the end of genocide. Unfortunately we are seeing the ugly head of hatred and intolerance still today."
Despite the disturbing images of violence and intolerance from around the world that seem to arrive almost daily, Klein's message is one of hope for humanity and tolerance of the views of others. She worked closely with the students at Columbine High School in Littleton following the massacre there in 1999 that left 13 people - mostly students - dead.
"Being global now, with communication being what it is, I do think that tolerance and understanding will come by itself," said Klein. "But unless we watch out we might not make the right choices. We need to be vigilant about this."
Klein insists on a firm understanding of the past to combat the scourge of intolerance, but said she is proud of America's young people and their commitment to forward thinking and changing the world. The formula for moving the world closer to universal tolerance starts with education, she said.
"I think education is the key to everything," said Klein. "If you can educate people and teach them democracy you can change the way people live for the better. We elected Barack Obama. They couldn't have done that in many places in the world. There would have been chaos and murder."
Klein's speech will be held at 10 a.m. on Dec. 8 in the Glenn Miller Ballroom of the University Memorial Center. The event is free and open to the public.
Klein's visit is sponsored by the Office of the Chancellor, the Leeds School of Business and the office of the Vice Chancellor of Diversity and Equity and Community Engagement.