By Yoni Gottlieb
On Tuesday, April 28, 2020 / 4 Iyar 5780 (Yom HaZikaron), the Jewish community lost another of the ever-dwindling number of remaining Holocaust survivors when Mrs. Suri Klein, a’h, of Far Rockaway was niftar in her ninety-third year. A private levayah was held in New York and she was buried the next day, Wednesday, April 29, 2020 / 5 Iyar 5780 (Yom HaAtzma’ut) in Israel on Har HaZeisim, next to her husband of 57 years, Mr. Yidel Klein, a’h. Mrs. Klein was the last personal and direct link to 1,000 years of Jewish life in Europe for her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, as her husband and mechutanim had all predeceased her.
Mrs. Klein was born in the village of Polgar, Hungary (which is about halfway between Miskolc and Nyíregyháza, in the country’s northeast), on August 16, 1927, to Mordechai HaLevi and Laya Klein, Hy’d, the third of the couple’s six children. On her father’s side, she was a member of the third generation to live in Polgar. Her father’s family had a dry-goods store and her father originally went into the family business, but due to his inherent trustworthiness of every person who asked him to purchase goods on credit, he did not find success in that endeavor. However, Mrs. Klein’s father had a beautiful voice and was also a shochet, and he subsequently gained employment as a chazzan and shochet in three different Hungarian Jewish communities between 1929 and 1944, those being Hajdúszoboszló (near Debrecen), Békéscsaba, and Mandok (near Kisvarda). Mrs. Klein’s mother was a homemaker and a loving and caring wife and parent. She also supervised the mikveh in Békéscsaba when the family lived there.
In mid-April 1944, Mrs. Klein and her family were transported from Mandok to the Kisvarda ghetto, and at the end of May 1944 they were taken to Auschwitz, where they arrived on June 3, 1944. Mrs. Klein was the only one of her immediate family to survive the war, as her parents and five siblings were all murdered by the Nazis. Mrs. Klein survived the Auschwitz death camp, where she spent over three months, and the subsequent work camp to which she was taken, Ober-Hohenelbe (a sub-camp of the Gross-Rosen concentration camp), at which she spent an additional eight months. Upon liberation, Mrs. Klein eventually made her way to the regional city of Sátoraljaújhely, Hungary (which is located in the extreme north of the country; as a result of the Treaty of Trianon entered into after WWI, half of the town was located in Hungary and half became part of Czechoslovakia), which was the ancestral town of another branch of the Klein family and to where her surviving cousins from that branch of the family returned after the war.
While living in Sátoraljaújhely, she was set up with and married her cousin Yidel, a’h, on April 7, 1946. The couple and the remnants of their family then moved to Paris, France, later that year. Mr. and Mrs. Klein lived in Paris until early 1948 when they were able to obtain papers to immigrate to America. After an arduous two-week sea voyage, they arrived in New York on February 6, 1948, and settled in Williamsburg, where they would live for the next six years.
In the summer of 1954, Suri and Yidel moved to Far Rockaway, following two other sets of cousins who had moved there previously, Louis and Rachel Newman, a’h, and Moshe and Esther Isaac, a’h, amongst others. Although they came to America penniless, Mr. and Mrs. Klein became involved with community endeavors almost immediately upon moving to Far Rockaway, as they wanted to help establish an infrastructure of Torah values for their children and the community. They were one of the founders of the Yeshiva of South Shore and Torah Academy for Girls and were major benefactors of Yeshiva Darchei Torah and the Sulitzer Rebbe’s shul.
Mrs. Klein is survived, ybl’c, by two sons and daughters-in-law, Motty and Malka Klein of Lawrence and Duddy and Faigie Klein of Flatbush and by two daughters and sons-in-law, Linda and Eli Gottlieb of Lawrence and Perri and Eli Cheshin of Far Rockaway, as well as by many grandchildren and great-grandchildren, all of whom continue to proudly carry on her legacy. (It should be noted that even before Mrs. Klein was buried, her family was able to perform additional mitzvos in her memory when the plane that they chartered to take her to Israel also carried two additional meisim, and the return flight took an Israeli couple and their baby to Boston so that emergency surgery could be performed on the infant.)
Upon Mrs. Klein’s passing, Perri and Eli Cheshin, who were her primary caregivers for the past 13 years, received the following note from Mrs. Klein’s cardiologist: “It is with sadness that we heard about the passing of your mother … Your mom is from a generation of giants … It has been an extraordinary privilege and pleasure to care for her over the last decades … I will always remember her wonderful smile coming into the office. Even when she was not feeling well she would ask, “How are you? Your family?”
Another note received by her son Motty after her petirah from a longtime acquaintance at Yeshiva Darchei Torah stated the following: “So sad to hear about your mother. She was an aristocratic lady who had a smile for everyone. My best memory of her was when Reb Yidel and she were honored at a Darchei dinner and we asked for a photograph for advertisements. She was the first, years ago, who emphatically told me: ‘I will give you a picture of my husband, but my picture will not appear anywhere.’ She was the ultimate eizer k’negdo who helped build this community to what it is today. She had a beautiful family, she was so proud.”
Suri Klein left the ashes of Europe after her entire immediate family was wiped out and having had to live for the better part of a year not knowing if she would live to see another day, suffering day in and day out under the rule of the barbaric Nazi beasts. Had she and her husband Yidel simply emerged from their wartime experiences by being able to move on from the past to live full and productive lives, that would have been something. Had she and Yidel also been able to successfully raise a family and imbue them with Torah values, that would have been truly remarkable. However, the fact that they not only did all of those things but also had a hand in establishing and supporting many of the Torah institutions which have allowed the Far Rockaway/Five Towns Jewish community to flourish and become what it is today is simply amazing.
May her memory be a blessing.
The author is a grandson of Mrs. Klein, a’h.
In Commemoration of the Shloshim for Sarah Bas Mordechai HaLevi Klein
By Perri Klein-Cheshin
My husband, son, and I had the z’chus of living with my mother for the past 13 years. What we saw on a daily basis and especially on Shabbos and yom tov was a true indication of who my mother really was. The traditions and mesorah that she maintained were truly remarkable.
Each Friday we would prepare the food in the exact same way my grandmother had taught my mother, and my mother would don her white apron, keeping in the true tradition of her past. She would daven Kabbalas Shabbos with fervor, and even if she didn’t have the strength to stand up, she would stand up when reciting the Shemoneh Esrei. Likewise, she stood for Kiddush despite her lack of strength in her later years.
She enjoyed eating the gefilte fish, katchonya (fish sauce), chicken soup with kneidel, chicken, kugel, and compote. She loved the pálinkaka (liquor/brandy) between the fish and soup and would take the opportunity to make a l’chaim at each Shabbos meal.
She relished the zemiros, always reminding herself of how her father, brothers, and entire family so enjoyed the Shabbos meal and singing zemiros together. One could not help but see both the pain in her face when speaking about her entire loving family whom she lost in the Holocaust and the joy in her face that she survived and was able to overcome those horrors and build her own beautiful family. She would bask in the delight of hearing her beloved einikel Yehuda (whom she was so proud of and always reminded that he was named after her beloved husband) and her son-in-law singing the zemiros on Shabbos. Even when she didn’t feel well or didn’t have much of an appetite, she somehow would forget about all her ailments, sing the zemiros with us, and eat the entire meal.
Each Friday, my mother would help my husband, who runs the Sh’or Yoshuv Chevras Tehillim YYY, fill up 50–60 bags of nosh for the children who said Tehillim. She was so happy to partake in this mitzvah of training young children to say the Tehillim that she said as well.
On Shabbos afternoons, Darchei boys would drop by in groups to sing, and she so enjoyed the melodic tunes from the past as she sang along with them. This act of chesed injected so much life back into her.
Davening all the tefillos daily was standard practice for my mother. She also finished the daily Tehillim each day. This re-emphasized the carrying on of a tradition that her parents taught her.
During these past 13 years, we were amazed that my mother could talk in detail about the horrors she endured, while still possessing a tremendous simchas ha’chaim. Any guest who entered the house was greeted with a huge Shalom Aleichem and a huge smile. Children who came to visit were greeted with respect and attention as well.
In the 13 years we lived with my mother, never once did she speak a sharp, critical, or cross word to my husband, always treating him with the utmost respect and honor.
My mother expressed tremendous hakaras ha’tov to every person who did anything for her. She always said “thank you” loud and clear. Even as Hatzalah took my mother from her bed to the hospital the very last time I saw her, the last words that I heard were “Thank you” to the Hatzalah members.
My mother was a practical person with a kind and generous heart. She performed her mitzvos in a quiet and anonymous way (shtiller heit). She did not need much in the way of materialism to make her happy. She did not want to call attention to herself or to rip other people’s eyes out with jealousy. This is a precious middah I have learned from both of my parents. In this vein, she would address every single tzedakah letter. She would sit and gather all the envelopes and send money to the tzedakahs as long as she was able to do so. Not one letter was overlooked.
What made my mother happy was her family; shepping nachas from her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, maintaining the traditions she had grown up with, seeing and greeting people and expressing her tremendous gratitude for being alive and being looked after.
We would like to give special thanks to Boruch Ber Bender and the entire exceptional and professional Achiezer team for their time and effort to do the utmost to help my mother and keeping her home for as long as possible and to all the Hatzalah members who came immediately when we needed them.
May she be a melitzah yosher for the entire family.
For more about the Klein family, read The Scent of Snowflowers (1989) And Morning Has Come (2020), both by R.L. Klein and published by Feldheim Publishers.