Tom Krausz, quiet man with a harrowing tale to tell

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When asked for an adjective to describe Tom “Tibi” Krausz, new friends, old friends, relatives and family all settled on one: Quiet.

Krausz, an elderly Hungarian gentleman, was formerly the chief tailor at Grodin’s flagship shop in Oakland; if you have an aging blazer in your closet, there’s a good chance it has held together this long thanks to him. He was a man who palpably avoided the spotlight, who rarely yelled or reacted excitedly (except at a ballgame, perhaps) and largely kept his opinions to himself.

He died April 1 at age 85 in his Moraga home after a heart attack in the middle of the night.

Krausz’s silence was not a reflection of the life he lived. This man had an amazing story to tell; he just hardly ever brought it up.

“Tom was a very quiet man, but I tell you, when he talked, you listened,” said Kathy Hollander, a longtime friend and an employee of Oakland’s Beth Jacob Congregation, where Krausz attended.

Krausz was a former professional soccer player who built a reputation as a prolific goal-scorer in his native Budapest. When the Nazis overran Hungary, he was booted off of his team. These were the days before million-dollar signing bonuses, however, and Krausz had a side career as a tailor and upholsterer.

And while his ability to strike a ball earned him much glory, it was his needlework that saved his life — and the lives of others.

Krausz had made a concerted effort to join the tailors’ union, as the underground groups it operated throughout Europe gave him a chance to parley in information during the war. His ability to find information — and people — made him a valuable man. He was ostensibly sent to a Hungarian work camp, but the German commandant quickly took him aside. The German had a Jewish wife and child and had no idea where they had been taken. He assigned Krausz the task of finding out.

Krausz’s freedom to traverse the countryside with false papers gave him the opportunity to find hiding places for his friends and family. Sadly, he did discover what became of the German’s wife and child — they were gassed very early in the war. Krausz’s own mother was gassed as well, and while his father survived the war, he did not live long after learning of his wife’s fate.

With the Germans in disarray and the Russians advancing, Krausz’s commandant was in a no-win situation. If he fled to Germany, he would be executed. If he stayed and was captured by the Russians, he would suffer the same. So Krausz personally smuggled him back into Germany and hid him with underground fighters he’d met through the tailors’ union.

Krausz married in the midst of the war, and he and his wife, Haya, went into hiding. At this point, however, the couple’s luck ran out.

“They had phony papers as Christians. But in Hungary, they used to wear the yellow star. And one day they wore the star on a raincoat, and it got wet. So they took off the star, but it left a mark on the coat,” recalls Anna Hollander, Kathy’s mother and the first cousin of Haya Krausz.

“They didn’t wear the coat, but the Nazis went into the room and searched around and they found it.”

Krausz was nearly worked to death in an Austrian labor camp. He eventually escaped, and led a group that included his wife and her young cousin over the mountains and into Italy. It may have been this desperate time, says Krausz’s younger daughter, Miriam, that her father was forced to beat a man to death. Krausz acknowledged that such an event took place during his Shoah Foundation interview, but wouldn’t go into the details.

For two years in Italy, Krausz played professional soccer before immigrating to Israel. After a long sojourn in Cypress (and several years in the army) he and Haya finally were able to settle down. Krausz played pro soccer in Israel and worked as a tailor. While Krausz never wanted to leave the Jewish state, his wife convinced him to take advantage of an opportunity to move to the United States in 1959.

Krausz lived out the rest of his life quietly, picking up a reputation for kindness and integrity. He saved his exuberance for games at the Oakland Coliseum, where he passionately rooted for the A’s and the Oakland Clippers of the short-lived National Professional Soccer League of the late 1960s.

He is survived by his wife, Haya of Moraga; daughters Anna of Moraga and Miriam of Los Angeles; six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Donations in his memory can be sent to Beth Jacob Congregation, 3778 Park Blvd., Oakland, CA 94610 or to the Israeli charity of your choice.

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.