Gerda Weissmann Klein, Holocaust survivor, writer and documentary subject, has touched the lives of a countless number of people; among those are the members of Sandy Flayton's eighth-grade class at Copper Ridge Middle School in Scottsdale.
Flayton has been teaching Klein's book "All But My Life" for more than 10 years, but this year her teaching had a particularly deep effect on her students. Every student in her class took the time to write a heartfelt letter to Klein, thanking her for sharing her heartbreaking and powerful story, a story that highlights the gift of life and the magic of freedom, despite the horror of what she witnessed during the six years she spent under the oppression of Nazi rule.
Klein was so touched by the students' letters that she "could not say no" when she was asked to come in and speak to the class about her experiences during and after the Holocaust and her involvement with Ryan House, the first children's comfort care home in the Southwest. In fact, she brought Ryan and Holly Cottor - Ryan being the inspiration for Ryan House - with her when she spoke to Flayton's class, along with Judy Schubert, one of her closest friends and chairperson of the Ryan House board.
While Klein talked to the class, she shared her story, speaking of the horror of hatred and the hope of kindness, but perhaps one of the most meaningful moments for the students was when Klein said, "You are the messengers of a time I shall not see, and you must ensure that stories like mine will never be written again. You are our future."
Klein completed the afternoon with questions about her Academy Award-winning film (a documentary about her, "One Survivor Remembers," won an Oscar and an Emmy), and toward the end she stated, "I do not want to live in a world where a potato is more important than an Oscar, but I also do not want to live in a world where an Oscar is so important that people forget about those who do not have potatoes to eat."
Klein signed copies of her books "All But My Life" and "One Raspberry" for almost every student in Flayton's class, and went out of her way to personalize each one.
"She truly is an amazing woman," Flayton said, shortly after Klein personally thanked her for being a teacher, which Klein said is the noblest and most important profession in modern society. "I'm lucky that she decided to come and speak to us."