Rabbi Abraham Klausner, advocate for Holocaust survivors, dies at 92

When Rabbi Abraham Klausner first walked the killing fields of the Dachau concentration camp in 1945, he felt nothing but grief and horror. And then he got to work.

As a Jewish chaplain in the U.S. Army, he quickly became a point person serving Holocaust survivors, a mission he gladly accepted for the rest of his long life.

Klausner died Thursday, June 28, from complications of Parkinson’s disease at his home in Santa Fe, N.M. He was 92.

From 1954 until he retired in 1989, Klausner served as head rabbi of Temple Emanu-El in Yonkers, N.Y. He also wrote several books, including histories and a memoir, “A Letter to My Children: From the Edge of the Holocaust,” published by the Holocaust Center of Northern California in 2002.

But Klausner will be best remembered for his work with Holocaust survivors.

“Everyone connected to that period is aware of my father,” says his son, Amos Klausner of San Francisco, “and what he did for the survivor community. The reason he was so good at helping survivors is that by hook or by crook he would get what they needed.”

Born in Memphis in 1915, Klausner graduated from Hebrew Union College in 1941. It was in May 1945, three weeks after Dachau had been liberated, that Klausner arrived at the camp. He worked tirelessly for survivors, making sure they had adequate food, shelter, clothing and other necessities.

His son tells a story about Klausner’s first days in Dachau. “He saw the desperate state of the people,” recalls Amos Klausner. “He walked into the barracks and introduced himself, and people started asking questions, ‘Do you know my cousin?’ ‘Do you know my wife?’ One voice came out: ‘Do you know my brother?’ My father knew the voice, saying, ‘I do know your brother. He’s in Europe.’ It was another rabbi he’d been traveling with. He was able to find this other chaplain and reunite these brothers.”

Klausner was married twice, and started a second family. Says Amos, his youngest son, “Later in life he had a big beard and moustache. He sort of looked like God. He didn’t talk a lot, but when he did speak it was always something valuable.”

In 2004, Klausner took a manuscript of his memoirs to the Holocaust Center of Northern California, which published the work. After that, Amos joined the board of the Holocaust Center, where he still serves.

“I knew from a young age that my father was honored and respected,” says Amos Klausner. “Through his work in Germany, with the Jewish community, as a historian and writer, and as a traditional pulpit rabbi: All those things commandeered a level of respect.”

The rabbi is survived by his wife of 41 years, Judith; sons Amos, Jeremy and Michael Klausner; daughter Robin Cooper; and two grandchildren.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.