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Theodora "Dora" Klayman (Teodora Basch-Vrančić)

Born: January 31, 1938, Zagreb, Yugoslavia

Theodora “Dora” Klayman was born Teodora Rahela Basch in Zagreb, Yugoslavia (present-day Croatia), on January 31, 1938. Her father, Salamon, owned and operated a small brush manufacturing plant. Her mother, Silva, a teacher, grew up in Ludbreg, a small town northeast of Zagreb, where her father, Josef Leopold Deutsch, served as the community rabbi for more than 40 years.

In April 1941, while Teodora—whom the family called “Dorica”—was visiting her grandparents and extended family in Ludbreg, the Axis powers led by Nazi Germany invaded and occupied Yugoslavia. The area in which Teodora’s family lived became part of the so-called Independent State of Croatia and was under the control of the Croatian fascist Ustaša movement. The Ustaša-run Independent State of Croatia was a satellite state that collaborated with Nazi Germany and instituted its own antisemitic policies and perpetrated the mass murder of Jews, Roma, Serbs, and political opponents. By June, Teodora’s parents and infant brother, Zdravko, were arrested in Zagreb. Their housekeeper was able to get Zdravko released and Silva’s sister Gizela, “Giza”, and her Catholic husband, Ljudevit, “Ludva”, Vrančić then took him to Ludbreg. Salamon was deported to the Ustaša-run Jasenovac concentration camp and Silva to Stara Gradiška, a subcamp of Jasenovac.

In Ludbreg, Teodora and Zdravko were first sheltered by their maternal grandparents. In 1942, nearly the entire Jewish community of Ludbreg was rounded up, including their grandparents and their mother’s sister Blanka Apler and her family. All were soon killed in Jasenovac. Teodora and Zdravko were left behind with Giza and Ludva.

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In order to avoid arrest, Teodora and Zdravko were sometimes taken by train, with little warning, to a nearby town and at other times they were sheltered by different neighbors. Sometimes they would not be allowed to leave the house for fear of attracting the attention of the Ustaša forces. During the fierce battles that often raged in Ludbreg between the Ustaša and the anti-fascist Partisans, they would spend nights in their cellar or cower in the corners of the living room as bullets pierced the windows and lodged in the furniture. When the Partisans prevailed, Teodora and Zdravko would be free of danger and fear and allowed to move around the town freely, but these periods of relative safety were short.

Eventually, Ludva was arrested on suspicion of supporting the Partisan resistance movement. He was sent to Jasenovac, where he saw Salamon who was forced to perform heavy labor and had access to very little food. Ludva was released after serving a 10 month sentence as a political prisoner.

During Ludva’s detention in Jasenovac, Giza was denounced. She managed to take Teodora and Zdravko to their Catholic neighbors, the Runjaks, who then pretended that they were their children. Giza was soon arrested and deported to Auschwitz. On Ludva’s return to Ludbreg, finding that his wife had been deported, he tried in vain to find her and have her released. Giza died from an “intestinal illness” after her arrival at Auschwitz. Ludva returned and took over the care of the children. Most people in Ludbreg knew Teodora and Zdravko were Jewish, but they never denounced them. Due to threats from the local priest to turn in the children, Ludva had them baptized in 1944 to add to their possible protection.

After liberation, when Teodora and Zdravko’s parents did not return and it was assumed they had been killed, Ludva legally adopted the children. The children took the last name Vrančić. Sadly, Zdravko died of scarlet fever at the age of six. Teodora remained with her uncle, attending high school in Varazdin and then the University of Zagreb. She was contacted by her paternal uncle, Josef Basch, a survivor who managed to escape on the Kasztner transport. Josef and his wife Magda remained in Switzerland following their release from Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. In 1957, they invited Dora to stay with them so she could study at the University of Lausanne.

On her way to Switzerland, Teodora met Daniel Klayman, a Jewish American research chemist who was en route to his native New York after a year spent as a postdoctoral Fulbright scholar in India. After corresponding with Teodora for a year, Daniel returned to Switzerland and the two married in the fall of 1958. Later they settled in the Washington, DC area. Thanks to Teodora’s efforts, Ljudevit Vrančić and the Runjaks were recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations

The recipient of degrees from the University of Maryland in French and in teaching English as a second language, Teodora—now Theodora “Dora” Klayman—taught in the Maryland public school system for 30 years. She has two children and three grandchildren. Dora began volunteering at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1999 at the time of the arrival of the Jasenovac Archive.