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An Unassuming Hero Who Made A Difference


With the help of Dr. Sidney (Burke) Berkowitz of the Tenth Army Hospital at Allach, Rabbi Klausner searched throughout Bavaria to find and bring back Jews who were in need of medical care. Berkowitz supplied the ambulances and helped determine who could be moved in this unofficial search. Many were so sick they were left to die.

When Klausner saw Jews at Dachau still dressed in their camp uniforms, forced to live behind barbed wire and those in other areas in Bavaria living in appalling conditions, he wrote an unauthorized report on June 24, titled “A Detailed Report on the Liberated Jew As He Now Suffers His Period Of Liberation Under the Discipline of The Armed Forces of the United States.” This prompted American Jewish leaders to ask government agencies to help improve this situation.

When Earl G. Harrison, dean of the University of Pennsylvania, went to Europe to assess the plight of the Jewish DPs, the army arranged for him to bypass the worst camps. Colonel Milton Richmond, who headed a special American military transport unit at Dachau, informed Klausner of this situation. As a result, Klausner accompanied Harrison on his tour of the camps and helped shape his itinerary and his report.

After reading Harrison’s report, President Truman created the position of adviser on Jewish affairs to the commander of the U.S. forces in Europe in August 1945 to address the needs of the Jewish DPs. This gave the Jews an advocate they desperately needed.

Realizing the need for the Jews to be recognized as a separate nationality, Rabbi Klausner convinced the Americans to allow the DPs to establish an organization to represent them in negotiations with the military. Known as the Central Committee of Liberated Jews in Bavaria, the survivors now took responsibility for their future.

Klausner’s Kol Nidre speech at the Opera House in Munich to a capacity crowd of American Jewish soldiers is remembered as an impressive and dramatic event. Next to the podium where he spoke, Klausner placed a table with a white cloth covering a plate. After describing the plight of the DPs, he uncovered it to show what the DPs ate every day. The soldiers were aghast. Klausner then asked them to urge their families to send packages. Tons of desperately needed items soon began arriving to Klausner and other Jewish chaplains.

Klausner played a role in the Brichah, the clandestine movement to smuggle Jews from the American zone of Germany into Palestine. One of these episodes involved helping the Jews of the Exodus by providing transportation, food, clothing, housing for a night, and travel documents.

When the survivors asked Klausner’s help in establishing a Yiddish publication, he agreed. Unzer Weg, viewed by many as their national newspaper, became the largest Yiddish weekly in Germany and a significant link for the survivors and world Jewry. The paper began on October 12, 1945 and by December 7, 1945 was publishing 20,000 copies.

In the first issue of Unzer Weg, Klausner was paid the highest tribute when the editor wrote: “Rabbi, friend, brother, you have become one of us.” At a time when the survivors needed someone who understood who they were, what they had experienced, and their need to control their own destiny, Klausner treated them with respect and dignity, gave them hope, and fought for their rights. He really had become one of them.

Whenever anyone characterized Rabbi Klausner as a hero or his work as heroic, he reminded them of the Jews he had to leave behind in Bavaria to die – an image that haunted him throughout his life. He had not anticipated meeting survivors, yet he became one of their greatest advocates. One chaplain called him a one-man relief agency. He was that and much more.

He had no patience for partisanship. He was a rabbi, and his congregants were the Jewish people – all of them – whether Orthodox, secular, atheist or whatever. He made no distinctions. When the Orthodox approached him for seforim – as the Klausenberger Rebbe did – or for kosher food, or for help in building a mikvah, a cheder or a shul, he found a way to provide it for them. He understood their needs.

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Many Holocaust survivors did not know Abraham Klausner, a Reform rabbi who died last week at the age of 92, but he had a profound influence on those who lived in post-war Germany and Austria.

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