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If you want to know how to take life one day at a time, ask Gene Klein

Jill Gabrielle Klein hears it all the time from business executives: “How can we get through this down economy and come out strong at the end?”
Klein has good answers. She’s a professor of marketing at the University of Melbourne in Australia, and she leads seminars for executives all over the world. But when she wants to drive home her point about resilience, she calls on her 86-year-old father, Gene Klein.
Gene Klein is a Holocaust survivor.
“For my dad,” she said in a telephone interview, “it was taking it one day at a time. … That’s a good lesson for all of us dealing with difficult times — breaking it down to just one day at a time.”
And at the end of her father’s talk, executives stand and applaud. “The response is overwhelming,” Jill Klein said.
Gene Klein — back then he was called Gabi — was just 16 in the spring of 1944, when Nazi soldiers forced him and his family from their home, all destined for Auschwitz, the notorious death camp in German-occupied Poland. Herman and Bertha Klein, along with their three children — Lilly, Oli and Gabi — were among more than 400,000 Hungarian Jews rounded up and sent to concentration camps. By the end of World War II, an estimated six million Jews had perished at the hands of a maniacal dictator. Herman Klein was one of them.
But Bertha and her children were somehow spared, spending the end of the war in slave labor camps. They all returned home — a miracle in itself.
Jill Klein has written a book about the family’s ordeal. It’s called “We Got the Water: Tracing My Family’s Path Through Auschwitz.” The title comes from a note her Aunt Lilly wrote about being herded with countless others into a room filled with showerheads. From those showerheads came water. Extermination chambers, on the other hand, often had fake showerheads — to keep the prisoners from panicking. Only poison gas fell from above.
I’ve read Jill Klein’s compelling book and interviewed her father. I still can’t fathom the horrors the Kleins and millions of others suffered during Hitler’s reign. I can only say that I understand why director Steven Spielberg filmed the movie “Schindler’s List” in black-and-white. He said he “didn’t want to prettify any images of the Holocaust.”
Horrific as it was, through all the forced labor, at one time carrying train rails a skinny kid shouldn’t be able to carry, Gabi Klein never gave up. He couldn’t understand why a prisoner would throw himself against the camp’s electrified fence, causing instant death.
“If I gave up, that meant they (the Nazis) won,” he said from his home at The Villages in Florida.
So when he was liberated by the Russians in the spring of 1945, the first thing he told himself was, “I want to enjoy life.”
He does enjoy life. He is a survivor. He knows resilience.
And for himself, his family and millions of others, Gene “Gabi” Klein deserves a standing ovation.    

Phil Hudgins’ column is published in many newspapers around the Southeast.