September 24, 1916|
New York City, New York, United States
|Died||October 8, 1985
|Cause of death||Shooting|
|Resting place||Beth David Memorial Park
Kenilworth, New Jersey, United States
Leon Klinghoffer (September 24, 1916 – October 8, 1985) was a Jewish-American appliance manufacturer who was shot and killed and thrown overboard by members of the Palestine Liberation Front who hijacked the cruise ship Achille Lauro in 1985.
Klinghoffer grew up on Suffolk Street in the Lower East Side neighborhood of New York City. Among his close friends was Jack Kirby, who would go on to become a major figure in the history of comic books.
Klinghoffer married Marilyn (née Windwehr), the daughter of a haberdasher, in September 1949. The couple had two daughters. Klinghoffer suffered two strokes later in his life that left him wheelchair-bound.
While he was growing up, Klinghoffer worked in his family's hardware store, Klinghoffer Supply Company. In 1942, he joined the Army Air Corps and was trained as a navigator. He flew missions in B-24 Liberator bombers with the famous 93rd Bombardment Group in the European theater of World War II.
After his honorable discharge from the army in January 1944, Klinghoffer and his brother Albert took over the store and began to invent appliances. A few years later, the two brothers founded the Roto-Broil Corporation of America. Their feature item was the Roto-Broil Rotisserie Oven or Roto-Broil 400, a popular kitchen appliance in the 1950s.
Hijacking and shooting
In 1985, Klinghoffer (then 69, retired, and in a wheelchair) was on a cruise on the Achille Lauro with his wife Marilyn to celebrate their 36th wedding anniversary. On October 7, four hijackers from the Palestine Liberation Front (PLF) took control of the liner off Egypt as it was sailing from Alexandria to Port Said, Egypt. Holding the passengers and crew hostage, they ordered the captain to sail to Tartus, Syria, and demanded the release of 50 Palestinians then in Israeli prisons, including the Lebanese prisoner Samir Kuntar, who had been responsible for the murder of five civilians in a terrorist attack in 1979.
The next day, after being refused permission by the Syrian government to dock at Tartus, the hijackers singled out Klinghoffer, a Jew, for death, shooting him in the forehead and chest as he sat in his wheelchair. They then forced the ship's barber and a waiter to throw his body and wheelchair overboard. His wife, who did not witness the shooting, was told by the hijackers that he had been moved to the ship's infirmary. She learned the truth only after the hijackers left the ship at Port Said. Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Foreign Secretary Farouq Qaddumi said that perhaps the terminally-ill Marilyn had killed her husband for insurance money. However, the PLO later accepted full responsibility for killing Klinghoffer.
Initially, the hijackers were granted safe passage to Tunisia, but U.S President Ronald Reagan ordered a US fighter plane to force the getaway plane to land at Naval Air Station Sigonella in Italy. After an extradition dispute, Italian authorities arrested and tried the Palestinian terrorists but let Abu Abbas fly to Yugoslavia before a US warrant could be served.
Klinghoffer's body was found by Syrians on October 14 or 15, and it was returned to the United States around October 20. His funeral, with 800 in attendance, was held at Temple Shaaray Tefila in New York City. Klinghoffer was buried at Beth David Memorial Park in Kenilworth, New Jersey. Four months after his death, his wife (October 5, 1926 – February 9, 1986) died of colon cancer at the age of 59. They are survived by two daughters, Ilsa and Lisa Klinghoffer.
After his death, their daughters established the Leon and Marilyn Klinghoffer Memorial Foundation with the Anti-Defamation League. The foundation combats terrorism through educational, political, and legal means. The foundation is funded by an undisclosed settlement paid by the PLO to the Klinghoffers to settle a lawsuit seeking damages for the PLO's role in the hijacking (Klinghoffer v. PLO, 739 F. Supp. 854 (S.D.N.Y. 1990) and Klinghoffer v. PLO, 937 F.2d 44, 50 (2d Cir. 1991). This lawsuit spurred passage of the Antiterrorism Act of 1990, which made it easier for victims of terrorism to sue terrorists and collect civil damages for losses incurred.
PLF leader Muhammad Zaidan, a.k.a. Abu Abbas, was freed by the Italian government in the aftermath of the Achille Lauro affair, but was continually sought by the United States government. He was captured in Iraq in 2003 by U.S. forces during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and he died in custody a year later of heart disease, according to the U.S. Government.
The ship involved in the hijacking, the Achille Lauro, returned to cruise duty until she caught fire off the coast of Somalia on November 30, 1994. After evacuating the ship of passengers, the crew could not control the fire, and the abandoned ship sank on December 2.
The concept of the opera The Death of Klinghoffer originated with theatre director Peter Sellars, who was a major collaborator, as was choreographer Mark Morris. It was American composer John Adams' second opera, based on the events of 1985. It opened to great controversy in 1991. It featured a libretto by Alice Goodman. In the opera, Klinghoffer sings two arias, one shortly before he is killed and one after his death. The Los Angeles Opera shared in the work's commission but never presented it, after the work was criticized by some[who?] as overly sympathetic to the terrorists. The opera has since drawn controversy, including allegations by some (including Klinghoffer's two daughters) that the opera is antisemitic and glorifies terrorism. The work's creators and others have disputed these criticisms. A Prix Italia-winning television version of the opera, starring Sanford Sylvan and Christopher Maltman, and directed by Penny Woolcock, was screened by United Kingdom's Channel 4 in 2003.
Klinghoffer (and his supposed travel diary) play a minor role in Philip Roth's 1993 novel Operation Shylock.
Klinghoffer is also mentioned in the graphic novel Palestine by Joe Sacco.
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- Abbas died of 'natural causes', BBC News, March 11, 2004
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- Klinghoffer Family Papers at the American Jewish Historical Society, New York, NY.
- Mitchell Cohen, "Going Under with Klinghoffer," "Jewish Review of Books," Spring 2015, https://jewishreviewofbooks.com/articles/1609/going-under-with-klinghoffer/