Danny Bloom
I seek the truth wherever it lies.

An elderly Jewish emigre from Nazi Germany was MLK’s tutor at Boston University

Look what the email brought in: something out of the blue, but it warmed my heart. It might warm yours, too.

And in this case, it solved a Jewish mystery that had gone unconfirmed for a long, long time.

Writing occasional columns for the San Diego Jewish World website over the past 15 years or so often brings me delightful surprises that come in the mail, email in most cases.

Just the other day, I received an email from Jean Klugman in Boston that read: ”Hello Dan. My cousin Heather Siegel just sent me a copy of the article you wrote nine years ago, in 2011, about a Jewish Boston man, who served as Martin Luther King’s German-language tutor at  Boston University when MLK was studying for his PhD exam in the 1950s.”

In my article in 2011, I was not able to mention  the name of the man I was writing about, since I did not know his name and saw no way I would ever find out. But Jean and Heather have solved the mystery. Long live the internet!

”That was my grandfather, Herman Klugman, whose wife was Dora. Good detective work on your part,” Klugman’s granddaughter in Boston told me in her email.How did she find me? She contacted me via the San Diego Jewish World email address that the editor of  that website is kind enough to append to all my articles there.

A second email from Jean’s cousin, Heather Siegel in Escondido, California, read:  ”Herman Klugman was Jean’s grandfather, as she told you in her email and he was my mother’s uncle. I have two younger brothers who are actively trying to do research on the family, too.”

So after nine years, mystery solved, and a big thank you to the two women for taking the time to write in.

Now just to recap the major points my article in 2011: I wrote at the time that “a German- Jewish emigre in Boston was Martin Luther King’s German-language PhD exam tutor at Boston University when King was studying for his doctorate in systematic theology in the early 1950s, according to a self-published memoir by a Methodist pastor named Milo Thornberry.”

Thornberry, who was a friend of mine from my Taiwan days and whose book I helped publish pro bono with a company in Pennsylvania, told me he had employed the same tutor when ​Thornberry was studying for his PhD in 1965 at Boston University​. ​

While Thornberry ​told me he could not recall the man’s name, he was sure he was a German immigrant who lived in the Back Bay section of Boston and he was sure he was King’s tutor in the early 1950s. For two reasons: one, because his P​h​D advisors at Boston University, Per Hassing and Harold DeWolf, told him so, and two, ​because ​the tutor once mentioned it

It turns out that Krugman was a retired professor at the time when he tutored the young Martin Luther King in his small Back Bay apartment in Boston.

​”​King was in his early 20s, while his tutor was in his mid-60s,​”​ Thornberry s​aid.​

How did this come about? One of MLK’s professors recommended the German-speaking man to King as an excellent German-language exam tutor.

“[That tutor] knows how to get students ready for the exams,” Harold DeWolf told Thornberry in the mid-1960s, when he was studying for his doctorate in Boston, and DeWolf recommended the ​same ​tutor for Thornberry, adding that the same man had been MLK’s tutor as well.

​Now, nine years later, thanks to the man’s two American relatives who wrote to me last week, we now know the name of the tutor: Herman Klugman, z’l.

He passed away in 1974, according to an obituary in the Boston Globe that year.

​Klugman ​lived in a small apartment with his wife ​Dora ​in the Back Bay section of Boston, and that is where King went for his tutoring sessions with him​.​ It was in September of 1951 that King began his doctoral studies in systematic theology at Boston University. His dissertation, “A Comparison of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Wieman,” was completed in 1955, and the PhD degree from Boston​ University​, a Doctorate of Philosophy in Systematic Theology, was awarded on June 5, 1955.

The man we now know as Herman Klugman was, according to Thornberry, ”small in stature, thin, with a head of gray hair, and it was believed that he come to the U​S​ from Nazi Germany. He spoke English with a German accent and usually tutored graduate students in German, although he also tutored P​h​D students in French​.​”

When ​Klugman​ was asked about his memories of MLK when he was his ​student for the off-campus tutoring sessions, ​Klugman​ told one of the Boston University advisors who was also Thornberry’s advisor: “Ah yes, he was a good student, that Martin!”

​Klugman ​also told Thornberry​:​ “When Martin was here as a student at BU, I knew I would be reading about him in the newspapers someday, he had that charisma about him already, but I just didn’t know it would be so soon. Within six months of getting his doctorate, he was leading the Montgomery Bus Boycott!”

​I asked in my article published in San Diego in 2011: “​If any readers out there in cyberspace know the name of this tutor in Boston, please contact ​me at the address below.”

For nine years, nothing happened.

Finally nine years later, we have confirmation from Klugman’s relatives. Long live the internet, and thanks to Jean Klugman and Heather Siegel for taking the time to contact me.

About the Author
Danny Bloom is editor of The Cli-Fi Report at www.cli-fi.net. Danny graduated from Tufts University in Boston in 1971 with a major in Yiddish Literature. A newspaper editor and reporter since his days in Alaska, Japan and Taiwan, he has lived and worked in 14 countries and speaks French, Japanese and Chinese. He hopes to live until 2032, when his tombstone will read "I came, I saw, I ate cho-dofu."
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