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February 02, 2012 - Image 12

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2012-02-02

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Ahuvah Blumenfeld, Micky Blumenfeld,

Malka Blumenfeld, Cantor Schaja
Kleinberg and Aaron Blumenfeld

Jessica Neiman
Special to the Jewish News


lose to 50 family members and
friends of Oak Park resident
Schaja Kleinberg packed tightly
into a room at the Holocaust Memorial
Center Zekelman Family Campus on
Sunday, Jan. 22, for a private video pre-
sentation about the inspiring life of the
92-year-old and his story of survival at the
hands of Oskar Schindler.
Kleinberg's granddaughter Micky
Blumenfeld of Oak Park arranged the
event. She was eager to share her grandfa-
ther's remarkable life story and the events
that led to the restoration of an ancient
Torah recently dedicated to an Israeli com-
Coincidentally, Sunday's event took
place exactly 18 years to the day when
Schindler's List won three awards at the
66th Annual Golden Globes in 1994,
ushering in a sensational series of wins
for the film that publicized the story of
German businessman Oskar Schindler,
who rescued more than 1,000 Jews from

almost-certain death by enlisting them
as workers in his factories and sheltering
them during the liquidation of the Plaszow
forced labor camp until the war's end.
In the 40-minute video, Kleinberg's
daughter, Malka Blumenfeld, told her
father's story.
Born in Bochnia, Poland, Kleinberg was
18 when World War II began. His parents
and two sisters were sent to their deaths at
camps throughout Poland, but Kleinberg
was sent to Plaszow where his previous
work at an ammunition factory in the
Bothnia ghetto secured him an auspicious
job working for Schindler.
Once, during the liquidation of Plaszow
in 1943, Kleinberg and a group of men
were ordered by the SS to dig their own
graves to be shot. As they were digging,
Schindler came storming toward them,
screaming "Stop! This is one of my work-
ers!" referring to Kleinberg. Schindler
personally saved his life that day.
Soon after, Kleinberg was sent to
Zwittau-Brinnlitz along with the other
approximately 1,100 lucky names on
Schindler's list. There he worked under

Experts go over the Torah's pages at Machon Ot in Israel.


February 2 • 2012

Schindler's protection until Soviet libera-
tion in 1945. By the war's end, Kleinberg
had lost 61 family members and was one
of only 50 Jews remaining from Bochnia.

After Liberation
Kleinberg married Matilda Essig, whose
two brothers he'd befriended at Schindler's
factory. The couple settled in Munich,
where they raised children Malka and
Oskar until relocating to Detroit in 1989
to be close to Malka, her husband, Aaron
Blumenfeld, and their five children.
Matilda died in 1994.
Today, Kleinberg has 22 great-grand-
children across the U.S. and Israel. He's
also a beloved member of the Kollel
Institute of Greater Detroit.
After the film, viewers observed a
moment of silence, and then Kleinberg,
who watched the presentation from his
wheelchair, recited an emotional Kaddish
in memory of those who perished.
Kleinberg used his clear, powerful voice
as a cantor at an Orthodox synagogue in
Munich for 45 years. Though he officially
retired after moving to Oak Park to focus

Elliot Chodoff holds the restored Torah at a welcoming

ceremony in Eshchar, while holding hands with Nati, his
grandson and Shaya Kleinberg's great-grandson.

on caring for his wife, he has continued
to sing at synagogues and community
gatherings around Metro Detroit over the
years, and is a staple at family weddings
and bar mitzvahs.
Watching the event via Skype from
Carmiel, Israel, was Kleinberg's grand-
daughter, Aliza (Blumenfeld) Chodoff,
whose prompting instigated another
amazing revival from the war years.
During his time in Munich, Kleinberg
developed a reputation for reclaiming
Jewish items stolen during the war, draw-
ing the attention of a non-Jewish man
with a fascinating tale.
The man was working as a janitor in
Munich's main synagogue on Kristallnacht
and had managed to bury two Torah
scrolls in a non-Jewish cemetery before
the Nazis converted the synagogue into a
horse stable.
After the war, the synagogue reopened
and the man returned to his job. He
exhumed the scrolls and returned them,
but years underground had rendered them
unfit to be used in synagogue service
according to Jewish law, so the community
stored them away.
Eventually, Munich's rabbis decided to
bury the relics, but Kleinberg wouldn't
hear of it. To him, they were symbols of
faith and revival.
So he took them home and eventually
brought them to Michigan, where they sat
wrapped in blankets in the Blumenfeld's
cedar closet.
Aliza dreamed of seeing the Torahs in
Israel. In 2006, her father-in-law, military
and political analyst Elliot Chodoff, flew
one of them across the ocean for inspec-
tion by experts in Jerusalem. The scroll
was 400 years old and perfectly repairable.
Chodoff began raising the several thou-
sand dollars needed for the restoration.
In a fascinating twist, Chodoff found
himself seated across the table from a
close relative of Oskar Schindler's during
a speaking engagement. Enthralled by the
story, the Catholic educator enlisted her
church to help raise the money.
This year, the hilltop community of
Eshchar in Israel's Galilee region wel-
comed the fully restored Torah with danc-
ing and singing.
A founding member of Eshchar,
Chodoff calls the growing town of 150
families a "model community" where
religious and secular Jews live together as
neighbors and friends.
"I was given the gift of life, survival:
Kleinberg says. "These scrolls also have the
right to live. I couldn't abandon them just
because someone said they were too old:'
Today one such scroll lives again in the
Jewish homeland, a symbol of hope and
rebirth more than seven decades after the

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