Ann Klein Receives Abrams Volunteer of the Year Award

[Archived from May 22, 2009]

[by Shiela Steinman Wallace]

Ann Klein is exactly the kind of person Ronald and Marie Abrams had in mind when they created the Volunteer of the Year Award that bears their names. She is a quiet person whose life is defined by her volunteer activities, but has not always been recognized for all that she does.

The Ronald and Marie Abrams Volunteer of the Year Award will be presented at the Jewish Community Association of Louisville Annual Meeting, Monday, June 29, at 7 p.m. at the Jewish Community Center.

Louisville has been blessed for many years with several Holocaust survivors who have shared their stories with school groups across the region, accompanied groups to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and spoken at many other venues. They have provided firsthand testimony about their experiences and helped teach tolerance.

For many years, Ernie Marx and Ilse Meyer led this effort. When Marx died in July 2007 and Meyer in 2008, Ann Klein stepped up and increased her own speaking commitments to ensure the lessons would continue to be taught.

Born in Eger, Hungary in 1921, she attended a Catholic high school, even though she was Jewish, and graduated in 1939. She and her family didn’t believe that what was happening in Germany could happen to them. But the Germans invaded Hungary on March 19, 1944, and reached Eger the next day.

She and her family were forced to wear yellow stars on their clothes and soon were moved into a very small ghetto. Sent first to a brick factory and later to Auschwitz, she made it through Dr. Mengele’s selection and wound up working in the camp kitchen. Although she survived, she lost most of her family.

Her husband, Sandor, was from the same town, but made it to the U.S. and served in the American Service during the war. They had been sweethearts before the war, and in 1947, he invited her to this country and they were married a few weeks later.

She began working as a seamstress in a department store in Washington, D.C. while she learned English and worked until her first child, Andy, was born in 1948. From there, the Kleins moved to Bloomington, IN, where he earned his Ph.D. in psychology.

In 1950, Elizabeth was born, and then the young family moved to Louisville. The Kleins had two more children, Linda in 1954 and Robert in 1960.

With four children, Ann Klein was a stay-at-home mother who did most of her volunteering with her children’s schools. Still, she found time to work with a young girl in foster care. “I taught her to knit and crochet,” Klein said, “and even today, we keep up the friendship.”

Later, the family suffered another tragedy. Andy was injured in an accident and left paralyzed. Very independent in spirit, he carved out a new life for himself, moved to California and became a social worker. “He made our life very much easy,” Klein explained, “and helped us accept” his condition.

In 1999, however, Andy died.

Today, Klein is a member of National Council of Jewish Women and helps each year with Fashion Encore. The Kleins are also members of Temple Shalom, and Ann and her daughter, Linda, served as co-corresponding secretaries for the Women of Temple Shalom for two years. She also helps with the annual WOTS yard sale.

Klein’s real focus, however, is Holocaust education.

For many years, Klein didn’t talk about her Holocaust experiences at all. In the beginning, no one wanted to hear about it and it was too painful to discuss. In 1996, a friend of hers, a professor at the University of Louisville convinced Klein that the time had come to share her story. The friend “came for seven weeks in a row to tape my story,” she said. “It was the first time I really talked about it.”

“Lately,” she continued, “I’ve really constantly been involved with Holocaust speaking engagements.” The calls come from all over the region, and she often returns to the same schools year after year. Church groups seek her out, too.

She’s been to Noe and North Oldham Middle Schools, Wakefield Christian Academy and Sacred Heart Academy, Manual and Eastern High Schools, and Jeffersonville and Floyd County High Schools in Indiana. She’s spoken at Bellarmine University and traveled to Berea and St. Catharine Colleges and out to Owensboro. Atherton teacher Dan Penner claims she’s spoken there 12 years in a row.

Each year, Ft. Knox has a Holocaust commemoration program, and Ernie Marx and Ilse Meyer used to speak there. This year, Klein went to share her story.

And of course, there’s St. Francis of Assisi. Last year, Fred Whittaker and his eighth grade students succeeded in getting the Kentucky State legislature to pass the Ernie Marx Resolution encouraging and supporting Holocaust education across the Commonwealth.

“St. Francis is my favorite school,” she said. During a recent illness, students from the school “came by and left a big envelope of notes from the 7th and 8th graders,” Klein said. “I’ve been going there five years, and have gone with them to the Holocaust Museum four times.

“Stuff like that makes me emotional,” she said. “If we had kids and teachers like that, maybe the Holocaust wouldn’t have happened.”

The Kleins’ three surviving children have all married and have children.

Linda married Marc Smith, and they have two children, Zach and Eli. Elizabeth married Greg Canote, and they have a daughter, Rosie. Robert and his wife, Laura, have three children, Alex, Elizabeth and Sarah.

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