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Klinghoffer Family Papers

Identifier: P-1002

Scope and Content Note

The Klinghoffer Family Papers consist mainly of materials created in response to the hijacking of the Achille Lauro.

Series I contains a small number of personal papers belonging to the family that predate 1985. These include educational records, Leon and Marilyn’s marriage certificate, Leon’s U.S. Army dog tag and Jewish Welfare Board prayer book, a Roto-Broil cookbook, examples of Marilyn’s work as a model, and a few photographs.

Series II contains materials related to the Achille Lauro hijacking and its aftermath. These materials are broken down into five subseries. Subseries 1 includes statements and speeches given by Marilyn Klinghoffer, eulogies given at Leon and Marilyn Klinghoffer’s funerals, and papers from the Klinghoffers’ friend Charlotte Spiegel, who was on the cruise with them. Subseries 2 includes papers related to the responses of officials, including statements added to the Congressional Record, hearings held in the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and many letters from officials and other notable figures. Subseries 3 consists of condolences sent to the family. This makes up the bulk of the entire collection. Subseries 4 contains papers related to the establishment and activities of the Leon and Marilyn Klinghoffer Memorial Foundation. Subseries 5 consists of clippings related to the Achille Lauro incident and the prosecution of the terrorists responsible for the hijacking. Subseries 6 contains clippings about the movies and opera created based on the events as well as recordings of the movies.


  • Creation: 1933-2014
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1985 - 1986


Access Restrictions

The collection is open to all researchers, except items that may be restricted due to their fragility, or privacy.

Use Restrictions

No permission is required to quote, reproduce or otherwise publish manuscript materials found in this collection, as long as the usage is scholarly, educational, and non-commercial. For inquiries about other usage, please contact the Director of Collections and Engagement at

For reference questions, please email:

Biographical Note

Leon Clifford Klinghoffer was born on September 24, 1916 to Pinchas Klinghoffer (1881-1929) and Lena née Rief (1889-1942). He attended Seward Park High School, graduating in 1933, and Casey Jones Aeronautics School in Newark, New Jersey, graduating in November of 1942 with honors. During World War II, he served in the U.S. Army as an airplane and engine mechanic from May 1942 until his honorable discharge in January 1944.

Leon Klinghoffer and Marilyn née Windwehr married on September 18, 1949. Marilyn was the daughter of Rose Peterman Windwehr (1903-1998) and Isidor Windwehr (1893-1957), the owner of Windwehr’s Haberdashery Store. Marilyn graduated from East Orange High School in 1944 and earned a B.S. in Business Administration from Drexel University in 1948. She held positions at Abraham & Strauss Department Store, Gimbel Brothers, and Olian Temporary Personnel Agency until she became assistant director of human resources at Gralla Publications. Through her work at Gralla, Marilyn occassionally appeared as a model in magazines.

The Klinghoffers lived in the Lower East Side near the Klinghoffer Supply Company, a hardware store run by the family. In the 1950s, Leon Klinghoffer invented the Roto-Broil Rotisserie Oven and founded the Roto-Broil Corporation of America, where he manufactured electrical appliances.

Marilyn and Leon Klinghoffer had two daughters, Lisa and Ilsa. Later in his life, Leon Klinghoffer suffered two strokes and became wheelchair bound.

In the fall of 1985, Marilyn and Leon Klinghoffer boarded the Achille Lauro cruise ship to celebrate their wedding anniversary. On October 7, 1985, the Achille Lauro was hijacked by members of the Palestinian Liberation Front. American and British passengers were taken as hostages. Wheelchair bound, Leon Klinghoffer was separated from the rest of the group despite Marilyn’s objections. On October 8, he was shot in the head and the chest and thrown overboard with his wheelchair. Marilyn Klinghoffer did not witness the murder and was told that he had been taken to the medical ward. She later found out what had happened. Leon's body was found several days later when it washed ashore at Tartus, Syria. His body was transported to the United States, and he is buried in the Beth-David Cemetery in Kenilworth, New Jersey.

Marilyn Klinghoffer spoke out against terrorism until her death from cancer in February of 1986. Lisa and Ilsa Klinghoffer have carried on their mother’s work through the Leon and Marilyn Klinghoffer Memorial Foundation. Founded in 1985 and merged with the Anti-Defamation League in 1986, the Klinghoffer Foundation supports educational programs, conferences, and legal and legislative actions that respond to terrorism. The foundation also participates in the ADL’s Advanced Training School Course on Extremist and Terrorist Threats and presents the Klinghoffer Award as warranted to an individual or organization that has demonstrated commitment to anti-terrorism efforts.


7.2 Linear Feet (11 manuscript boxes, 1 OS1 oversized box, 1 OS1F oversized folder)

Language of Materials



This collection contains papers of the Klinghoffer family related primarily to the 1985 hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship, Leon Klinghoffer’s murder, and the aftermath of these events. Included are statements and speeches by Marilyn Klinghoffer, eulogies given at Leon and Marilyn Klinghoffer’s funerals, clippings, video recordings, photographs, the flag that covered Leon Klinghoffer’s coffin, and other objects. Also included are papers related to the founding and ongoing activities of the Leon and Marilyn Klinghoffer Memorial Foundation of the Anti-Defamation League. The bulk of the collection is made of condolences sent to the family. Among them are letters from Ronald and Nancy Reagan and other notable officials. Some personal papers from before 1985 are also included.

Physical Location

Located in AJHS New York, NY

Acquisition Information

The Klinghoffer Family Papers were donated by Ilsa and Lisa Klinghoffer in 2015 (accession number 2015.031).

Seymour Meskin narrative and snapshots regarding the Achille Lauro hijacking were donated by his children, Ken Meskin and Susan Meskin Keohane in 2016 (accession number 2016.040).

Separated Material

Twenty-five VHS videocassettes and one audiocassette were physically separated to the Audio Visual Collection. These items remain arranged intellectually in this finding aid.

Leon Klinghoffer's U.S. Army dog tag described in Series I and the 3D objects (flag, t-shirt, medal, two buttons) described in Series II Subseries 3 were separated to the Museum Collection and are only accessible with special permission.

Processing Information

Where possible, the records were kept in their original order. Many of the condolences in Series II Subseries 3 were bundled and labeled by document type; these groups were retained here. The materials in Series II Subseries 2 and Subseries 4 were likewise grouped together. Materials were rehoused into acid-free folders and manuscript boxes. Photographs were placed in archival sleeves. Leon Klinghoffer's dog tag was placed in an acid-free envelope. Oversized materials and 3D objects were rehoused into oversized boxes. Textiles (the flag and t-shirt) were wrapped in tissue paper. Buttons were clipped to a board. Clippings were trimmed to include only relevant articles; the remainder of the publication was removed. Blank envelopes were removed. In the vast majority of cases, envelopes for condolences were kept because they were often the only indication of the date or sender.

Guide to the Klinghoffer Family Papers, 1933-2014 P-1002
Processed by Leanora Lange
© 2015
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Description is in English.
Processed as part of the Leon Levy Archival Processing Initiative, made possible by the Leon Levy Foundation.

Revision Statements

  • December 2015: AVC box number updated by Leanora Lange.
  • February 2016: Access note added to TV movies by Leanora Lange (temporarily unavailable).
  • April 2016: Access note removed from TV movies and item numbers added for videocassettes by Leanora Lange.
  • December 2016: Seymour Meskin narrative and snapshots added by Tanya Elder.
  • November 2020: RJohnstone: post-ASpace migration cleanup.
  • November 2022: TElder: Updated title of box 2, folder 2.

Repository Details

Part of the American Jewish Historical Society Repository

15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States