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An Unassuming Hero Who Made A Difference


Before Pesach 1947 some of the 1,450 Jews of the Monchenberg DP camp complained that the Orthodox could not eat the margarine proved by the JDC. When Klausner asked what they wanted instead, they said potatoes. He arranged for five tons of potatoes to be delivered to the camp.

He also provided for many Passover sedorim including those at Merxhausen, a hospital with 160 Jews suffering from tuberculosis. A number of days before the holiday, the sick sent a representative to the office of the JDC with this request: “At least do not forget us on Passover.” The JDC turned to Klausner for help. Klausner reported, “At Merxhausen, on Passover evening there was truly a Seder with all good things to eat. There was joy and there was singing – all this at the cost of 23,500 RM, or if you will, at seventy cents per person.”

It is important to note that Klausner and the other American Jewish chaplains had not been authorized or expected to work with the survivors. Their role was to attend to the religious and spiritual needs of American Jewish soldiers. Some commanding officers approved of their work with the survivors; others did not. Each chaplain had to decide the extent of his own involvement with them.

I met Rabbi Klausner in the 1970’s while researching material for my Ph.D. dissertation at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He never compared his activities with those of the other Jewish chaplains – some who also risked their careers and others who chose not to. He would not judge the latter.

Over the years we became friends – he a Reform rabbi and I an Orthodox Jew. When the Jewish people desperately needed support and encouragement, he was there for them. Under the circumstances, how could religious affiliation have any relevance?

Whenever he came to Los Angeles for work on the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Academy-Awarding winning film The Long Way Home, we would eat at Leah Adler’s restaurant, theMilky Way. When the rabbi was a rabbinical student and Leah a student at the University of Cincinnati, they dated. He went on to become a rabbi and she the mother of Steven Spielberg.

Rabbi Klausner is now reunited with all the rebbes and other Jews whom he helped in post-war Europe and throughout his rabbinical career. The Klausner family wanted him buried at Arlington National Cemetery, where he belonged. Army regulations proscribe cremation, a violation of Jewish law.

Tehey nafshoh tzerurah bitzror hachayim: May his soul be bound in the bond of everlasting life.

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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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