Wednesday, March 2, 2011

To My Grandfather, From Your "MayaBabe"

Last night I found a letter from grandpa Roger. It was written in 2006 as part of an exchange we had while I was studying abroad in Australia

My dearest youngest grandchild;

I was so happy to read your first letter about your life in Australia as
well as your wonderful birthday letter and I thank you for both. I'm sorry, but I just couldn't help but forward a letter from my cousin Moshe (husband of Shimat) who lived in peace at a kibbutz not far from Kiriat Shmona at the border of Israel and Syria and Lebanon. Unfortunately everything in Israel is near a border. He expresses some logical and humane thoughts first expressed by Golda Meir. After you hear of the deadly plans hatched by people who use the concept of "God" as an excuse to do the most horrible deeds like blowing up planes over the Atlantic; you get reminded of what your gramma Hilde said that religion divides people and therefore should be rejected. Yet I think the way religion is put down in the Bible or the Koran can teach you ethical concepts which absolutely reject the evil misquotes and interpretations promoted by fanatics. Well enough of this. We had some very nice parties celebrating Gordon's, Viti's and my birthdays. All the Leos were let loose. I told the family that my medical check up was good, except for traces of chocolate in my blood which would not let me compete in the Tour de France. I also made another 18 yearly appointments with my doctor who told me after 100 he will not charge me anymore. Take care of your health darling, enjoy life to the fullest, and think sometimes of your gramps who loves you

It moved me to read about his wishes for peace and made me even more hopeful that I may see some improvement in this area during my lifetime. I smiled knowing that, at the time this was written, his biggest medical concern was "chocolate overload."A lot has changed since then. This past Saturday night my parents, my brother, his wife Erica, John, and I visited my grandpa Roger for what would be the last time. Over the past several years, he has battled various forms of cancer (first in his stomach and esophagus, and then in his brain) and endured more than his fair share. He fought heroically against all of it. In fact, up until a year ago, he was still helping to run Klauber Brothers, our family's sixth generation lace business that had its humble roots in a German street cart.

The S.S. Manhattan
My grandpa was born in Munich, Germany in 1924 where all of his family had resided since the early part of the 19th century. Being Jewish, he experienced profound anti-semitism from the start and was separated from the others kids at his elementary school. As tensions mounted in Germany, his parents decided to send him to a boarding school in Switzerland when he was only eight years old. My grandpa lived and worked on his own from this young age, worrying about his parents all the time. Meanwhile his father, Ernst Klauber, was interned in a French type of concentration camp (ironically for being a German enemy alien) until his visa came through. Amazingly, Ernst once came face to face with Adolph Hitler on a train. The SS ordered him to change to another compartment, as his was reserved for the Fuhrer. If they knew he was Jewish, it is a real possibility that he may not have lived. Ernst said he will never forget the intensity in Hitler’s eyes. Having read Mein Kampf and recognizing Hitler's capabilities, Ernst mobilized his family and together they boarded the S.S. Manhattan in 1939 (the same boat that had transported the U.S. Olympic team to the 1936 games in Berlin. Incidentally, my grandpa was at these games with his father and recalls seeing Jesse Owens run.) As they boarded the ship bound for America, two French soldiers with bayonets were assigned to escort the "dangerous refugees" on board and my grandpa remembers feeling his father squeeze his hand reassuringly. As it turns out, the S. S. Manhattan would be the last boat to leave for New York.

The Klauber family fled Hitler's regime throughout the period of 1933 to 1939. At the time he emigrated, my grandfather's name was Otto Adolph Klauber - something he sought to change as soon as possible (due to the obvious associations). He joined the United States ski troops (the 10th Mountain Division) around 1944, a unit that sought to counter the German forces in the mountains. Incidentally, the 10th Mountain Division still exists and is active in Afghanistan. At that time, the division trained at Camp Hale, Colorado and he had to learn to ski with a heavy pack and rifle while rappelling down cliffs. The 10th Mountain Division had a high casualty rate and so fortunately he was transferred into the Intelligence Corps (Office of Strategic Services) because of his knowledge of Germany and the native language. He had also written a letter to a newspaper about the postwar economy which might have also been seen by someone. During the war, he changed his name to "Roger Jay Klauber", borrowing "Roger" from the guy in the bunk next to him and "Jay" from another friend in his barracks. My grandfather truly loved America and was eternally grateful that it took our family in. He was proud to fight for his country.

While he was serving in the war, he met my grandma Hilde, a beautiful woman who worked for the censorship bureau in Germany at the time. Having seen her from across a plaza, my grandpa recalls knowing immediately that he had to marry her. While he was given distinct orders not to "fraternize with the local population, he disobeyed just this one time...and thank God for that. Their relationship blossomed against all odds and, in my eyes, they had one of the great love stories. My grandpa was Jewish and my grandma was raised into a Catholic family. Despite their differences and the historical context in which they lived, their families were entirely supportive of their union. In fact, my grandma's parents encouraged the couple to raise their children as Jewish. They were horrified by the atrocities committed against the Jewish people and wanted the important history to be retained (an incredible stance to take during this time). When my grandpa left the army in 1946, he and my grandma returned to the United States and settled in Great Neck, Long Island. Soon they had two sons together: my father Mark and his older brother Gordon who they loved tremendously. As I grew up watching my grandparents together (exchanging "sweet nothings" in German), their marriage helped me to understand true love.

My handsome gramps, resembling
my brother a bit here.
Since my grandfather's great-grandmother Rosa Klauber was considered the very lace authority in Germany, the entire Klauber family was related to the lace industry. While my grandpa was serving his country during the war, his father Ernst and his uncle Ludwig Klauber re-established the family business that had been seized by the Nazis in Germany. Klauber Brothers re-opened in Manhattan during 1942. As the business gained its footing once again, my grandpa played a crucial role in its success. He ventured into new areas of the world (such as Cuba) and formed tight bonds with his customers. He had a way of charming everyone he met, remembering details and anecdotes about his customers' lives and always leaving everyone laughing. He recognized these relationships as central to having success and happiness both in business and in life. As condolences pour in from around the world this week, I'm reminded now - more than ever - just how many lives he touched throughout his life. My grandpa took such pride in our family's legacy and enjoyed his work, especially when his son Mark joined the business upon graduating from college. Years later after teaching in Wisconsin, Gordon would also join the company. My father led Klauber Brothers into its fifth generation and is currently the head of the company. His other grandson Norbert would later work here. Upon graduating from college in 2004, my brother Josh joined Klauber Brothers (the 6th generation) and still works there today as the sales manager. Despite the economic climate that had developed and the increasing threats to the company's survival, my grandpa always felt fulfilled working beside his family. The Klaubers were an unstoppable team.

Years passed and our family grew. His older son Gordon and his wife Rose adopted my cousins, Norbert and Lily, making him a grandfather for the first time. Soon my dad married his high school sweetheart (my mom Judy) and my bother and I entered the picture. Upon the birth of Norbert's two children (Nicholas and Ayden) and Lily's two children (Olivia and Ben), my grandfather became a great-grandfather and was happy to reach this milestone in his life. He loved watching his family grow and kept us all laughing. For example, at my Bat Mitzvah, as I called my grandparents up during the candle lighting ceremony, he busted out some amazing dance moves, took the microphone from the band, and sang "Everybody Dance Now!" as loud as he could. It was perfect and so..."grandpa."
A classic "grandpa moment"

Our family shared a lifetime of memories together: mouth-watering dinners cooked by my grandmother, holidays (of both denominations), and annual summer vacations in Maine. Most of all, I remember the big trip to Switzerland and France that my grandparents took us on. I was about thirteen and it was my first time in Europe - an experience they felt overjoyed to give me. We met our European relatives and enjoyed the gorgeous sights together. Especially when it came to their family, their generosity was endless. I remember watching my grandparents on that trip, surrounded by the exquisite beauty of the Alps. They appeared so peaceful and "at home." Only later would I discover that my grandmother had already been diagnosed with breast cancer at that time. Our trip was one of her final wishes.

Until just a couple of years ago, my grandpa was working every day. He was more alive than many people much younger than him, playing weekly tennis and skiing whenever he could. He took an interest in many causes and supported a wide range of charities during his lifetime. For example, he was a large contributor to the Spondylitis Association of America. He told me that he often prayed for a cure and hated seeing me in pain. He also spent his finals years with Viti by his side - a woman who we have all come to treasure. I will never think of my graduation from college without picturing my grandpa and Viti, who had travelled 8 hours from New York to Maine. My grandpa was undergoing chemotherapy at the time, but he told me he wouldn't have missed it for the world. I will also remember the look on his face last January as he witnessed my brother's marriage to Erica, the love of his life. He was fighting cancer again, but he was still there.

In the past year, my grandpa has watched far too many of his peers (friends and family members) pass away and, understandably, this took a profound emotional toll. All the while, Viti was by his side in a way that a family could only hope for. We love her for it and they were very blessed to have had each other.

Grandpa & Viti, East Hampton
On Saturday night, we encircled his bedside trying to take his mind off of his ailing body. For a man who was larger than life, he seemed smaller than ever. I took his hand in mine and, as he politely told us that he needed to rest, we exchanged a glance...a knowing smile. I believe he was at peace.

On Sunday night my mom called to tell me that my grandfather had passed away, with Viti by his side. The loss is surreal for all of us, but I am so deeply comforted by the full life he led: by the love he shared, the places he saw, the accomplishments he owned, and the family he created. It only felt right to tell the story of his amazing life and many thanks to everyone who has reached out to me and my family during this sad time.

Gramps: Thank you for your never ending generosity, your incredible sense of humor, and for ensuring that we all had the best lives possible. I love you and we will all miss you more than you know...

your "Mayababe"


  1. Thank you so very much Maya for sharing these wonderful memories of Roger. What a Great Man he was!

  2. Maya,

    This brought tears to my eyes. You are a wonderful human. I'm so sorry for your loss. My thoughts are with you always.


  3. hi Maya
    i truly enjoyed reading this. it is beautifully written and touching. it makes the reader feel like they too shared a part of Roger's life. as an employee of Klauber Brothers, it is nice to have this piece on Roger and get to know him better. thank you!
    Ivy Diaz/ Klauber Lace

  4. Thank you for sharing Roger's incredible life with us. I love how you describe him as "more alive" than others much younger than him-it really seems like he was.

    My thoughts and love are with you and your whole family.

    Love always, Kate xxxooo.

  5. miss maya,
    a beautiful tribute to a beautiful gramps. may God hold him gently in the palm of his hand.
    deepest sympathies,
    the bakers

  6. oh dear Maya! My heart goes out to you and your family for your immense loss. This is truly a beautiful tribute to your grandfather, who must have been an amazing man.
    I can see his courage and love for life in you as well - perhaps that also is your tribute to him.

    Sending you all my love

  7. What a tribute Maya. And what a legacy he has left. May each of us live in a way that our children and grand-children will want to honor us in a way such as this. You have given him the highest honor with your language of love and deep respect. So beautifully done. Love you bunches.

  8. What a wonderful, wonderful post. I learned things about Roger that I never knew in 12 years of working in the office. We got along wonderfully and he was an amazing man. God bless and my prayers to you and the family.

    Tracy Freeman Flounoy

  9. Steven BrenerMarch 03, 2011

    Hi. I heard of your Grandfather's passing yesterday from my sister (Lauren Brener) and was saddened by the news.

    I knew Roger almost all my life. My father spent his career at Klauber Brothers (Henry Brener), and when he died in 2004, Roger came down to southern Florida and gave the eulogy. It was a wonderful speech, appropriate for the moment, sprinkled with humor, and I am grateful to him for doing what he did. (I have a copy of it.)

    I have many memories of seeing Roger over the years. Among the many things I remember about him were his intelligence and drive. I went to Klauber Brothers numerous times as a kid, and spent a number of summers working there (ask your father about Irwin!). He and your grandmother both attended my Bar Mitzvah, which was 'officiated' by an old Borscht Belt commedian. One of the earliest memories I have of the Klaubers is the trip my family and I made to his home in Great Neck way back when, when I was a boy, to pick up our new cat Fluffy (what else?). Fluffy became an honored member of the family and ritually jumped on the bed each morning to make sure I woke up when he felt it was time (I never understood why, since I was not the one who fed him). I may not be remembering this clearly, but I think your father was not too happy about us leaving with the cat.

    As you probably guessed, I've also known your father, Mark, for many years so please express my condolences to him. I understand the kind of loss he is feeling.

    It is very tough when you reach a certain point in life and realize the generation that you had relied on for so much and for so long is now passing on. Roger's passing is another reminder of that difficult chapter in the cycle of life.

    Lauren had just told me about your condition. I am sorry to hear that you have been living with a chronic, painful illness. She has also told me about what a wonderful, talented person you are. Your entry about your Grandfather speaks richly to that.

    Please take care. It still seems surreal to me that Roger is no longer here.


    Steven Brener

  10. My deepest sympathies to you and your family.
    As a former employee of Klauber Brothers, I spent 16 years with your family and can truly say that Roger was a wonderful and amazing person.
    He truly cared for his employees and always made us laugh.
    This was a beautiful tribute to him. His love for his family was always evident to anyone that knew him.

    I was truly saddened to hear of his passing.
    My thoughts and prayers go out to you and the rest of your family.

    Josephine Melnick

  11. Matthew CoreyMarch 03, 2011

    A very special tribute to a very special man. I was blessed to be a part of the "Klauber Family" for 15 years. Roger took a personal interest in all those who had the privilege of working for him. He was caring & giving & respected by all. I have fond memories of happy holiday celebrations starting with Roger's famous cry - "Everybody Dance Now!". It was a privilege to know Roger & I will miss him. Matthew Corey

  12. Dear Maya,
    at first, please excuse my English, it is very bad.
    I'm deeply impressed by your words.
    By reading it, I had tears in my eyes as well as my parents would have, if they read your words (I sent them the adress of your blog).
    And, by reading it, I saw Roger laughing and smiling in my thoughts as I knew him.
    Everytime I called him, he told me, that I have to be in bed at this time instead of calling him, because it must be very late in the night at germany. And than he laughed.... He was such a great person.
    And it was such a great gift for all of us, to have known Hilde and Roger and we are proud and fortunate, to belong to their circle of friends.
    It was a very special friendship, my parents and my family had to them both. We'll never forget them.
    Thank you for your words. You are very sepcial too.
    Claudia (from Offenbach, Germany)

  13. These comments meant the world to me and my family during this very sad time. It is a true testament to my grandfather to read all of your lovely comments and memories. He was an incredible man who I feel lucky to have known (let alone to call my gramps). To those of you who came to his funeral on Friday, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I was happy to read this post there because, after everything he's given to me, it felt like a small gift I could give back. His story needed to be told. I hope you'll all hold the memory of Roger and his story in your hearts and thank you again for your comments...they truly comforted me this week. All my love.