‘No Irony but Only Tragedy’

Dylan Klebold, one of the two Colorado teen-agers who carried out a mass murder at a suburban Denver high school on Hitler’s birthday, was descended through his mother from a prominent Jewish family in Ohio.

The Klebold family attended a Lutheran church in Littleton, the Denver suburb where the massacre took place, and Dylan was given a Christian burial, presided over by the family minister, on a Saturday.

However, the family also practiced aspects of Judaism. Dylan, 17, recited the Four Questions at this year’s family Passover seder, according to the minister, the Rev. Don Marxhausen.

“How could my son be a Nazi?” Susan Yassenoff Klebold, Dylan’s mother, said at the funeral, according to Marxhausen. “He’s half Jewish, and the seder is practiced in our home. He was still complaining about having to say the Four Questions.”

Dylan Klebold’s great-grandfather, the late Leo Yassenoff, was a leading philanthropist and real estate developer in Columbus, Ohio. The local Jewish community center is named for him.

Susan Yassenoff was raised in Columbus and studied art history at Ohio State University, where she met and married Thomas Klebold, a geophysicist. Family members told the Columbus Dispatch that Susan Klebold had rarely returned to Columbus in recent years, except to attend family funerals, and that most of the family had never met her husband or children.

The family background has received extensive press coverage, especially in Columbus, where the main local daily, the Columbus Dispatch, reported that Klebold “had been driven by neo-Nazi beliefs to commit a high-school holocaust.” The Dispatch quoted a distant relative, Solly “Skip” Yassenoff, as saying there was “no irony but only tragedy” in the youth’s Jewish background.

News coverage of the family in the local Ohio media has caused “concern” among members of the 16,000-member Jewish community in Columbus, said Samuel Horowitz, director of the local Jewish Community Relations Council.

“I do think the local media finds a cruel irony in the fact that a kid with a Jewish background picks Hitler’s birthday to commit a mass murder,” Horowitz said. “I’ve been getting a lot of calls from the Jewish community, wondering why the media keeps digging this up. There’s an unsettled feeling in the community, a sense of disquiet.”

The Republican governor of Colorado, Bill Owens, has spoken angrily of the extensive evidence of violence found in Klebold’s home and the home of his apparent accomplice, Eric Harris, 18. Owens has called for charges to be brought against the parents of both youths for ignoring the evidence of their children’s criminal intent. Jefferson County District Attorney David Thomas said no evidence had been found to support a charge of aiding and abetting a crime, the only relevant statute.