“I love America.” That is the opening sentence of the newly released memoir by Gisèle Huff “Force of Nature: The remarkable true story of one Holocaust survivor’s resilience, tenacity and purpose.” She was four when Hitler invaded her native France and she lost 18 members of her family to the Holocaust. She and her mother survived by going into hiding with false identities. The description of the horrors of that period has eerie echoes to the resurgence of antisemitism we are experiencing now.
If America had not entered the war, Gisèle might not be alive today to tell her story. And what a story it is! Her first memory of our country is viewing the Statue of Liberty in the New York harbor at dawn in 1947, a symbol of not only the freedom but the opportunities that America offered. All their worldly possessions were packed in two suitcases, they had $400 to their name and neither she nor her mother spoke a word of English.
They lived with Gisèle’s paternal grandmother, her aunt and cousin in a one-bedroom tenement in the South Bronx and she attended a dilapidated public school where she was one of three white children in the class. An outstanding student in France, she realized that her 6th grade black classmates weren’t being educated. When she launched her career as a foundation executive 50 years later, that experience inspired her to work toward making a good education available to every child in America.
Having married when she was 18, education became a major focus for Gisèle when she was 32 and enrolled as a freshman at Hunter College. Nine years later, she earned her Ph.D. in political science at Columbia University. Her family moved to San Francisco in 1977 and there began the second phase of her life, a job as the director of development of a private prep school where she met and worked with some of the city’s most prominent people and learned that they were just as accessible as others she had met over the years.
But Gisèle’s successful, happy life was interrupted by the devastating loss of her husband of 33 years who died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 54. At the age of 60, she decided to run for the CA 6th Congressional seat as a Republican who espoused libertarianism as a philosophy. She was defeated in the primary, but the connections she made lead to a position as the executive director of the Jaquelin Hume Foundation. It was in that position that she met and engaged with the great minds of politics and education, from liberal New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker to conservative former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and blazed a trail for blended learning.
As she was contemplating retirement at the age of 82, she suffered another unimaginable loss, that of her 54-year-old son from the same disease as his father, at the same age. Gerald Huff, principal software engineer on the Tesla Model 3 team, was an ardent supporter of universal basic income because of his concern about technological unemployment. After the economic debacle of 2008-09, Gisèle made a sharp political turn away from libertarianism when Gerald persuaded her that providing every American with $1000 per month would guarantee a floor under which no one can fall.
With renewed vigor and in her son’s memory, Gisèle launched a non-profit, the Gerald Huff Fund for Humanity, whose mission is to work for the implementation of universal basic income. Telling a story of setbacks and triumphs, grief and joy, the chapters of Gisèle’s life speak to her strength, to her commitment to deep and lasting friendships, and to her determination to challenge and engage the powers that be.
For more information about the book, please visit Amazon or you can go to Gerald Huff Fund for Humanity – https://fundforhumanity.org/force-of-nature/
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