February 22, 2020

‘Poppy Man’ Raises Funds for Jewish Vets

Harvey Krasner, 94

In the weeks leading up to Memorial Day and Veterans Day, you’ll find 94-year-old World War II veteran Harvey Krasner handing out red paper remembrance poppies at the Vons supermarket on Mission Oaks Road in Camarillo in exchange for a donation to the Jewish War Veterans of the USA (JWV).

Until recently, Krasner was the vice commander of the San Fernando Valley post of JWV, and he’s been selling the poppies for 60 years. Although something of a local celebrity, Krasner told the Journal that the money he raises is more important than the recognition. He estimates he raises approximately $2,000 each week, with “every penny of it going to hospitalized and homeless veterans.” 

Krasner doesn’t need to do this work. He and his wife live in a retirement village. They have active social lives and visit with their children and 11 grandchildren. Krasner said he sells the poppies because it’s important that people remember.

Poppies have been a symbol of remembrance for those killed in combat since World War I, when the poem “In Flanders Field” by Lt. Col. John McCrae, a Canadian doctor who fought in the Battle of Ypres, was published in 1915. The poem’s most well-known line is: “In Flanders fields the poppies blow/ Between the crosses, row on row.”

Krasner said his fundraising success is because of the cause he supports, but he’s also a savvy salesman  — a talent he picked up working as a buyer and later sales rep for handbags and leather goods. 

Location also is very important, he said. “Don’t get a location that has two entrances, because you can lose 50 percent of the potential donors.” Equally important, he added, is having a donation box. “That’s a big thing. You can’t put the money in your pocket. [The box] lets people know they’re not giving the money to you, but to the organization. I never touch their money.”

Krasner has no set price for the poppies; people can give what they wish. He figures on average, people pay around $3 a poppy, and he sells approximately 90 per day. Most of the people who donate, he said, are in their 50s and 60s.

He wears a military hat and his commendations when selling the poppies, and he has a second chair at his table so if anyone wants to sit and kibitz, they can. His wife and children sometimes come by and join him for an hour or so, but it’s often other vets who take a seat and want to trade war stories.

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., and raised in California, Krasner enlisted at 18, right out of high school, and was sent to Europe, where he joined the 756th Tank Battalion. He landed in southern France and fought in the Battle of the Bulge, earning a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star. He also saw the Dachau concentration camp a few days after it was liberated. “It was horrible,” he said. “Thousands of people, just lying there, dying.” He joined the JWV almost immediately after his discharge.

While not observant, calling himself a “Jew by culture and tradition,” Krasner takes great pride in his membership in the JWV, rattling off the organization’s bona fides: It was started in 1896 by Jewish Civil War veterans; it’s the oldest veterans group in the United States; it was founded to combat the perception that Jews did not fight in wars.

“It’s important,” Krasner said, “that people remember that Jews fought in World War II,”  adding that Jews “made up 2 percent of the [United States] population in World War II, yet we were 5 percent of the service and we were 10 percent of the officer corps.”

While Krasner will not be selling the remembrance poppies again until the week before Veterans Day in November, donations to the JWV can be mailed to Jewish War Veterans Post 603, 4218 Village 4, Camarillo, CA 93012.