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!
  • "Selma. Nearly 50 years ago it was violent Selma, impossibly racist Selma, site of Bloody Sunday, when peaceful civil rights marchers made their first attempt to cross the Pettus Street Bridge on the way to the state capitol in Montgomery, Alabama." http://jd.fo/r50mf With the 50th anniversary approaching next spring, a new coalition is bringing together blacks, Jews and others for progressive change.
  • Kosovo's centuries-old Jewish community is down to a few dozen. In a nation where the population is 90% Muslim, they are proud their past — and wonder why Israel won't recognize their state. http://jd.fo/h4wK0
  • Israelis are taking up the #IceBucketChallenge — with hummus.
  • In WWI, Jews fought for Britain. So why were they treated as outsiders?
  • According to a new poll, 75% of Israeli Jews oppose intermarriage.
  • Will Lubavitcher Rabbi Moshe Wiener be the next Met Council CEO?
  • Angelina Jolie changed everything — but not just for the better:
  • Prime Suspect? Prime Minister.
  • Move over Dr. Ruth — there’s a (not-so) new sassy Jewish sex-therapist in town. Her name is Shirley Zussman — and just turned 100 years old.
  • From kosher wine to Ecstasy, presenting some of our best bootlegs:
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • 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.