Rabbi Abraham Klausner, the first Jewish chaplain in the U.S. Army to enter the Dachau concentration camp after its liberation, died June 28 at his home in Santa Fe, N.M. He was 92.
He died several years after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, his wife, Judith, told The Associated Press.
Klausner had been a leading advocate for Holocaust survivors, collecting and publishing lists of survivors’ names in volumes called “Sharit ha-Platah,” or “Surviving Remnant,” to try to reconnect children of the Holocaust to their families.
Born in 1915, Klausner was the leader of Temple Emanu-El in Yonkers, N.Y., for a quarter-century. He retired in 1989. He was also the author of several books on Jewish topics, including a guide to performing interfaith weddings.
His most prominent role, however, was as an advocate for Jews living in displaced persons camps following the Allied Forces victory over the Nazis in 1945. Klausner arrived at Dachau shortly after the liberation and was assigned to handle death certificates and burials, but he soon became the point man for Jewish refugees struggling with hardship and despair, this time under the American military occupation.
Klausner quickly began making lists of survivors in order to reunite families, and he urged soldiers to provide food for the Jews. He also commandeered hospitals for the use of Jewish refugees and employed the military mail service, in defiance of U.S. Army regulations, to help Jews find their families, according to Alex Grobman, a historian who wrote about Klausner in his book “Rekindling the Flame: American Jewish Chaplains and the Survivors of European Jewry, 1944-1948.”
His efforts fighting the American military’s indifference to the plight of newly liberated survivors culminated when he accompanied President Truman’s special envoy, Earl G. Harrison, on an eye-opening tour of the displaced-persons camps. That trip led to the nomination of a special adviser for Jewish affairs at the military command.
Klausner’s decision to leave his military unit and devote his time to aiding the DPs was not without significant risk, Grobman said: “He could have ended up in jail or thrown out of the Army, but he didn’t care.”