Washington - One the most famous Jewish Army chaplains was laid to rest in New Mexico last week after the Army denied his request to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
The disagreement over the burial of Rabbi Abraham Klausner was the final clash with military authorities for a rabbi who always believed that army rules come second to moral judgment.
Klausner was the first military chaplain to enter the Dachau death camp after the 1945 liberation, and was known for his clashes with army authorities when he became an advocate for Jewish displaced persons.
He told his family he would like to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery, but shortly after his death June 28, the family was informed that he would not be eligible for ground burial at the cemetery because he did not serve long enough in the military.
Burial in Arlington is restricted to service members who died during active duty, to those who retired after prolonged service, and to former service members who won medals and special awards. These rules were set in 1967 in order to preserve space at the cemetery.
Exceptions have been made only in few cases; the most recent one was in the case of a former serviceman who died in the September 11 terror attacks. The army offered the Klausner Family other military cemeteries and the option of interment at Arlington if the body was cremated. The latter option would have violated Jewish law. As the campaign mounted, requests for an exception came from the Simon Weisenthal Center in Los Angeles and from Jewish lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
Two members of Congress, California’s Tom Lantos and Nita Lowey of New York, wrote to the military’s cemetery superintendent, John Metzler, asking to make an exception.
“Given his extraordinary contributions to the Army, his country, his faith and the memory of Holocaust survivors, I hope you will agree that he is deserving of the highest honors and praise our nation can provide to those who have served it,” Lantos wrote.
Rabbi Marvin Hier, head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, wrote the White House asking to allow the burial.
“I am very disappointed at the way things turned out,” Hier told the Forward. “His work in the DP camps improved the image of America, and that is why he deserved special consideration when making the decision.”
The Army denied all the requests, and Klausner was buried last Thursday in New Mexico.
Nathan Guttman staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Ha’aretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Contact Nathan at email@example.com, or follow him on Twitter @nathanguttman