The Kleinmann Family Story Told in the Holocaust Book "The Stone Crusher"

Aug 24, 2018

Kurt Kleinmann is reading about his family in the Jeremy Dronfield book "The Stone Crusher"
Credit Doug Doyle for WBGO

Kurt Kleinmann lives in Pompton Plains, New Jersey and has been married for 61 years.  The military veteran had a very successful career in pharmacy and was a long-time ski instructor.  But how Kurt got to the United States and what his family went through is the subject of the new book from Jeremy Dronfield, The Stone Crusher: The True Story of a Father and Son's Fight for Survival in Auschwitz.

Now 88, Kurt Kleinmann is reading about his family in The Stone Crusher.  I visited Kurt and his wife Diane in their Pompton Plains home.  This is the first interview Kurt did since the book was published this year by Chicago Review Press. 

The book is dedicated to Kurt in memory of his family.

"It's almost difficult for me to describe my gratitude to Jeremy Dronfield for putting that together and writing this book.  It's beautifully written.  It's amazing he intersperses the memories of myself, or my sister, among the situation of my father and brother in the concentration camps.  I think it's outstanding reading in spite many of the other books I've read about the Holocaust.  The humility of some of the stories, the courage of both my father and brother."

Kurt's father Gustav, a Jewish upholsterer in Vienna, Austria was arrested by the SS in 1939.  Gustav, who kept a secret diary that much of the new book is based on, and his 16-year old son Fritz survived four concentration camps including Buchenwald and Auschwitz.

Kurt Kleinmann was 8 years old when he posed for a family picture in Vienna
Credit Jeremy Dronfield and Chicago Review Press

Kurt was only 9 years old when he father was arrested by the SS in Vienna.  He has strong remembrances of that time period.

"The Nazis came to the house and were looking for my father, I remember both those days, and he wasn't home. As a result of that, they said we'll take your son and if he turns himself in we'll let your son go."

After making one unsuccessful trip to the police station which was a few blocks away, he told his wife Tini that he was going back the next day.

"My mother said, and this I remember very specifically, she said "Get out of the house, if you don't get out of the house, I'll turn on the gas!"

Gustav would eventually get out of the house but did come back home later that evening only to have the Nazis return to the home in the wee hours and arrested the upholsterer and former war hero.

Gustav's wife, Tini, fought to save her children from the Nazis.  Tini sent her eldest daughter Edith to England to work as a maid.  With the help of the Jewish Children's Aid Organization in New York, Kurt was sent to America.

"Well, her whole thing was to save her children.  She was very upset that she could not save my brother who was by now in the concentration camp."

After arranging Edith's escape to England, she was able to get the proper paperwork to get Kurt to the U.S.

"Somehow my mother was able to get me accepted by the German-Jewish Children's Aid Society that was trying to send children to the United States.  By the way, the records show there were roughly one-thousand children that the United States accepted, unaccompanied, between 1934 and 1945.  As a result of that, she got me accepted to come to the United States."

Eventually Kurt ended up in New Bedford, Massachusetts with Judge Samuel Barnet and his family.  Kleinmann would come to consider Judge Barnet as his new father.  He still spends certain holidays with the Barnets.

While Kurt was thriving in Massachusetts, the horrors continued back home in Austria.

Kurt's mother Tini was not able to get her teenage daughter Herta out of Vienna.  In 1942, Tini and Herta were arrested by the Nazis and sent with thousands of other Austrian Jews to a death camp near Minsk.  Their family and friends never saw them again.

"The Stone Crusher" author Jeremy Dronfield is a biographer, historian, novelist and ghostwriter
Credit Chicago Review Press

"The Nazis kept records of everything and my brother found the manifest of the women on the train.  I saw my mother and my sister on that list, so I knew they were killed and I always said they were murdered there.  But I had no idea how.  It wasn't til I read the book and how Jeremy Dronfield felt that they were killed when they got to Minsk."

Kurt always enjoyed playing a harmonica when he was Vienna. 

"When it's time for me leave my mother sits me on the kitchen table, as a going away present she gives me a beautiful harmonica."

However, while Kurt was on the train from Berlin to Lisbon, the train was stopped and they got off the train.

"Some of the soldiers saw I had a harmonica and were playing with it and so on, but unfortunately they never gave it back to me.  And I lost the only thing my mother gave me at that point.  That was a terrific loss obviously because that was my memory of my mother."  

Kurt's father Gustav's secret diary provided many brutal and horrific tales of what was going on in the concentration camps, but his words also showed what an amazing bond Gustav had with his son Fritz.

"The way he expresses the relationship between my brother and him and the joy he experienced, and I have a feeling it gave both of them strength."

Kurt Kleinmann and his wife Diane have been married for 61 years
Credit Doug Doyle for WBGO

Kurt wife's Diane was beaming with pride during this interview saying her husband also has amazing qualities.

"I know his work as a hospital pharmacist director, he was very successful and looked up to.  He won awards for being strong and consistent in his work.  He is a great father and great husand."

Did reading The Stone Crusher bring Diane even closer to her husband?

"I can't get much closer than I already am" she chuckled.  "We are very close."

Gustav Kleinmann, who did visit the U.S. in 1966, died ten years later.  He was 84.  Fritz Kleinmann died in 2009 at the age of 85.  Kurt's sister Edith, who would eventually move to the U.S. with her husband Richard, passed away at the age of 96.

Kurt Kleinmann is still very active and enjoys spending time with his three sons, friends and his extended family.  He still makes pancakes for Diane, much like he used to do with his mother in Vienna. 

In summing up his feelings about The Stone Crusher, Kleinmann realizes what a special family he has.

"It's almost difficult for me to either interpret or understand how they were able to have that kind of courage."

Kurt says he has a need to see anything about World War II or anything about the Nazis.

"I have a need to understand and learn about these things and then obviously recognize how fortunate I was that at least part of my family lived through the whole situation."

Click above to hear Doug Doyle's entire interview with Kurt Kleinmann.