Julius Klein Helped German Companies Hide Nazi Links. Why Does a Jewish Museum Honor Him?Breaking News
tags: Jewish history, World War 2
Michael Millenson was puzzled after stumbling on an exhibit about Gen. Julius Klein during a spontaneous visit to the National Museum of American Jewish Military History in Washington, D.C., this spring. The modest museum has devoted a room to Klein as one of its three permanent exhibits: “Major General Julius Klein: His Life and Work.”
The small, wood-paneled room is constructed almost like a shrine. It features a bust of Klein and his personal battle flag. Placards along the walls provide a fawning description of his colorful career.
“Julius Klein was a remarkable individual who achieved great heights as a soldier and a statesman,” the exhibit’s introduction reads.
Millenson, a Chicago healthcare consultant, knew perhaps more than most visitors about Klein. His father, Roy, briefly worked for Klein’s public relations firm in the 1950s and left with a sour taste in his mouth over his boss’s work to help German companies launder their extensive ties to the Nazi regime.
After distinguishing himself as an officer during World War II, Klein spent the 1950s and 1960s as one of the top American lobbyists for the West German government. This work included defending a former top Nazi official, and severely damaged Klein’s reputation at the time, forcing his resignation from the Jewish War Veterans of the United States — the very organization that operates the museum. But the exhibit glosses over this history in a few lines that don’t mention Nazism and attribute the controversy to a simple case of bad publicity — perhaps because the exhibit was essentially a gift of Klein’s estate.
Pamela Elbe, director of collections at the museum, said Klein left his personal archives and military memorabilia to the museum along with funding to display it following his death in 1984. The exhibit opened in 1991.
“Information on his work with West Germany is noticeably minimal,” Elbe said in an email interview. “The exhibition is well overdue for an update.”
But Elbe said that the museum has limited resources – two employees and an annual budget of less than $500,000, compared to more than $100 million at Washington’s Holocaust museum, for example – and was prioritizing other exhibits.
“As Klein is generally not a well-known figure,” she noted, “we have received very little feedback from visitors.”
Millenson lodged his complaint with the museum and also contacted the Forward. “It’s kind of, ‘Aren’t we proud of this Jewish guy?’” he said. “Other than the whole fact he’s helping people try to rehabilitate the reputation of proto-Nazis.”
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