Decades-Old Blood Libel Case Roils Town

Dwindling Jewish Community Still Haunted by 1928 Incident

naomi zeveloff

By Naomi Zeveloff

Published October 18, 2012, issue of October 26, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 6 of 6)

One of the synagogue’s assets, a stained-glass window panel, now belongs to the daughter of Barbara Griffiths Klemens, the onetime four-year-old who wandered off into the woods 84 years ago. Klemens’ daughter brought her to Adath Israel in August when the Chamber of Commerce was auctioning off items that remained in the building’s basement. It was the first time Klemens had set foot in the synagogue where the Jewish community gathered in fear of being blamed for her disappearance.

Today, Klemens lives with her husband on a tree-lined street in Canton, a village 45 miles from Massena. Trim with a gray bob and a round face, Klemens ran a yarn store from her home for decades. We sat down at a card table in her living room, where she had played bridge the night before with several friends from the neighborhood.

“I don’t remember anything directly,” she said. What she can recall comes from stories her family told her and the articles and books she read over the years. On that day in September, her mother sent her outside to call her brother, who was collecting twigs for slingshots, and bring him home for a lollipop. Klemens couldn’t find him, and walked into the woods herself. She eventually fell asleep, oblivious to the search crew calling her name. (Some accounts from the time speculate that she did hear them, but was afraid.) The next morning, she stumbled into a street where she encountered two girls who were thumbing a ride to nearby Raymondville. She vaguely remembers how the girls looked. “They were girls with curls,” she said.

Klemens eventually left Massena to study physics in Albany. She worked for a year in the state health laboratory, mixing vaccines for whooping cough. She and her husband returned to the North Country 66 years ago. Klemens is the mother of three children, one of whom is now deceased. She has six grandchildren, and one great grandchild.

I asked Klemens if she ever felt bad for her part in the blood libel incident. She said she felt sorry for her mother, who must have been worried sick. Her mother was pregnant at the time that Klemens disappeared, but something — Klemens can’t quite remember what — happened to the baby. Her mother might have miscarried because of a blood clot.

Before I left, Klemens showed me a manila folder filled with newspaper clippings about the blood libel incident, dating back to 1928. “Tot Tells of Night in Wood,” “Missing Girl Is Found Safe,” “Four-Year-Old Child Lost in Woods Twenty-Four Hours.” I asked her why she saved them.

“Anything about the family, I save it,” she said. “Probably, mostly, because it’s about me.”

Contact Naomi Zeveloff at zeveloff@forward.com or on Twitter @NaomiZeveloff


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.