Holocaust survivor who later served as US Army doctor dies at 95
By ADRIAN RODRIGUEZ | The Marin Independent Journal, Novato, Calif. | Published: February 3, 2018
Dr. Oskar Klausenstock, a longtime Tiburon resident who survived the Holocaust by escaping several concentration camps, died Jan. 23 at his home in San Rafael's Villa Marin. He was 95.
A longtime Bay Area radiologist/oncologist, Klausenstock was born in a tiny village of Cieszyn in southern Poland in 1922. He eventually made Reed Ranch in Tiburon his home where he lived with his wife Judy for 32 years.
"I will always remember dad as a wonderful father, very stern, but fair and loving," his son Dan Klausenstock said. "I will remember him as a strong person taking great care of his family. He had my admiration and respect always. He was an incredibly good man, wise and well read, a humanitarian, courageous and generous. I do my best to carry on what he taught me."
Dr. Klausenstock was the only one of 38 known family members that survived World War II. Two aunts and one uncle escaped to Palestine before the war broke out.
By the end of the war, Klausenstock had survived seven concentration camps, including Plaszow, Gross-Rosen, Ganacker, Flossenburg and Dachau. He was eventually smuggled into an American POW camp by U.S. prisoners. A few days after that an Allied victory was declared.
In a 2010 interview with the Independent Journal, Klausenstock said, "Somehow my luck followed me the entire war, and I don't know why. ... Every four or five days, I had an experience where I thought I was going to die."
As a teen he apprenticed to a weaver and a furrier and played goalie for his school soccer team. All that changed on Sept. 1, 1939, when World War II began with the German blitzkrieg.
The apartment he shared with his mother and stepfather was ransacked. Jews were rounded up and detained.
His first of many escapes was made possible by the help of an old soccer friend who had been recruited to work for the Germans. A planted note from the friend told him to scale a wall at midnight. In the process, he sliced his hands on the glass shards protruding from the top.
He fled with a younger cousin hundreds of miles eastward through the Polish forests, forded a heavily guarded river and was welcomed by Soviet soldiers.
He assumed the life of a Ukrainian farm boy but was overrun again by the Nazi forces. His first concentration camp was Plaszow, made famous by "Schindler's List" – a film Klausenstock was forbidden to see by order of his wife. He was often transferred to other camps and worked in quarries, as a blacksmith and as a welder.
At Flossenburg, he was detained along with the son of Soviet premier Jozef Stalin. He narrowly missed being assigned to an unexploded bomb detonation detail in which many Jews were killed.
He was once strafed by British Spitfire planes along with other laborers at an airfield where the Nazis were testing the first jet plane, the Messerschmidt Me-262.
His closest call with death was when a Nazi soldier was counting off every 10th Jew to kill, and Klausenstock – then in his late teens – was No. 10.
"He counted sieben, acht, neun ... and then for some reason he looked at me and said neun again," Klausenstock told the IJ in 2010. "And the man next to me had to step out and be No. 10."
Within weeks after an Allied victory was declared, Klausenstock was serving as an interpreter for the occupying U.S. Army. He spent time working for Gen. George Patton just before the general died from injuries in a traffic accident.
When the Allies were staking European claims in the months after the war, the Soviets had eyes for the famed Lipizzaner Stallions, which had been moved from Vienna to Simbach, Germany. As far as the Soviets were concerned, the show horses were property of the Hungarian military and thus could be turned into cavalry horses. Klausenstock orchestrated a transfer of the horses into American hands and later learned to ride the stallions himself.
"When it was all over, foremost in my mind was to forget it," Klausenstock said in the 2010 IJ interview. "Some people have more difficulty than others in doing that. My healing was that I was not a Holocaust survivor, I was a human being. In a way, I have become a stranger to myself, but it is a good estrangement."
Klausenstock studied medicine in Frankfurt, Germany, before coming to the United States in 1949 with the aid of U.S. Army contacts.
He came to the states with only a microscope, a harmonica and $1.90. He was accepted to Boston University School of Medicine. In his final year there, he met his wife Judy at Boston City Hospital, and married in 1952.
After graduating, Klausenstock chose to serve the U.S. Army and moved west to Fort Huachuca, Arizona, where he served as a captain and the fort doctor.
After two years there, Klausenstock went on to complete his residency in radiology at Stanford Medical School. Soon after he joined a medical practice associated with Mount Zion Hospital in San Francisco.
He enjoyed spending time with his family, taking vacations, traveling the world, camping and taking ski trips. He wrote poetry and prose, some of which was published. He enjoyed gardening, and took pride in his 30 fruit trees.
"He loved his garden," his wife Judy said. "He was a literary, just a scholar, a renaissance man, empathetic. We will miss him."
Klausenstock is survived by his family, wife Judy, his son Dan, daughter-in-law Susanne, and his two grandchildren Michelle and Alex.
A celebration of his life will be at 1:30 p.m. on Feb. 10 at Villa Marin at 100 Thorndale Drive in San Rafael.
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