Abe David Waldauer

Abe David Waldauer

Vicksburg, Warren County, Mississippi, USA
Death 21 Dec 1975 (aged 79)
Memphis, Shelby County, Tennessee, USA
Burial Memphis, Shelby County, Tennessee, USA
Memorial ID 38793539 · View Source
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Memphis attorney, civic and political leader for more than 50 years.

He was appointed Collector of Customs for the Tennessee-Arkansas district by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1939 and served several terms in that post.

He also served as chairman of the Tennessee Board of Elections in the 1930s. He was a member of the National Rehabilitation Committee of the American Legion and served as assistant city attorney in Memphis for nine years, under Mayor Edward Hull "Boss Crump" Crump.

He was a World War I veteran and received a medal for gallantry in action during the Battle of the Argonne.

After the war he was instrumental in establishing a veterans hospital in Memphis and led efforts to have a branch of the Veterans Bureau brought to the city.

He was named "Outstanding Jewish leader of the year in the Memphis community; in 1952 and was former Chairman of the Memphis Jewish Welfare Fund and past president of the Jewish Welfare Fund.

He was implicated in the State of Tennessee investigation regarding the black market selling of children by Georgia Tann, and the Memphis Branch of the Tennessee Childrens Home Society. The investigation claimed that Boss Crump protected Georgia Tann by his political influence, and Abe Waldauer used his office to rewrite laws to protect the criminal activities. In his writings during the time, he referred to the children at the home as "Merchandise". He also served as Georgia Tann personal attorney, and attorney to the Home. Of note, Waldauer refused to get a State license for the Tennessee Childrens Home Society, contending one was not needed, and to assure the records of the home remained out of the hands of Government officials. As an 'unlicensed' orphanage, they were not required to adhere to the $7 per adoption fee, set by the state of Tennessee. The home often charged up to $5,000 per adoption. Abe Waldauer was also the long time Chairman of the Board of Trustees for the TCHS. Charges were never filed against Waldauer.


Paul Gaston, Professor of History Emeritus at the
University of Virginia, borrowed the title of his talk,Suddenly Not Jewish, from the phenomenon of
post-Holocaust European children who were raised
as Christians, but now in their adult years have
learned suddenly that their parents were Jews.
Gaston's story is set in Tennessee where a child
adoption service run by a woman named Georgia
Tann distributed babies nationwide. Thanks to a
kindhearted Memphis lawyer, Abe Waldauer, of the
5,000 children so placed more than 30 percent
landed in Jewish homes with papers marking them
as having Jewish parentage. Herein lies the tale.
The children's birth parents weren't Jews.

For Gaston, a self-described lapsed agnostic,
the story was a personal odyssey. He knew and
admired Abe Waldauer, whom he had known since
his childhood on a utopian Henry George colony
in Alabama. Waldauer was an active Zionist,
a founder of Brandeis, and a lawyer of
impeccable ethics. In a barn behind
Waldauer's house Gaston discovered an old
filing cabinet with thousands of adoption
documents and scads of letters from rabbis
and others requesting Jewish children.

Georgia Tann and the Tennessee Children's
Home Service endured until 1950 when financial
scandal finally closed the agency. Tann had taken
thousands of babies from poor, often illiterate
women, some of whom were drugged when they
signed away their rights. A baby carried two sets
of papers. One might identify the parents as
illiterate sharecroppers. A second would list
an unmarried college student and a musician.
The paternity was often Jewish, since maternity
could be more easily traced.

A Tennessee Right to Know Society has formed
to help these adopted children find their birth
parents. The adoptees' responses, Gaston noted,
varied from those who remained secure in their
Jewish identities to those who suffered trauma.
Jerry, raised by Jews in New York, was a professional
with both a MD and Ph.D. He learned that
his birth father was in jail. A man who was
intellectually and emotionally a Jew, an observant member
of a synagogue, he suffered a breakdown. Rhoda
was a happy and secure member of a Jewish family
and congregation, but after a lifetime of Jewish
living her rabbi informed her that neither she nor
her children were Jewish. Others encountered
rabbis who responded with understanding. Some
adoptees chose not to inquire.

Did Abe Waldauer, a man of integrity, actually
believe that these babies were Jewish? Surely he
must have known that Tennessee could not have
produced so many Jewish adoptees. Gaston finds
the question compelling. Was Waldauer acting from
altruistic motives, thinking that he was helping both
parents and children to better lives? Could he have
been an accessory to a crime? Tann was obviously
corrupt. Gaston does not have an answer on
Waldauer, but an enraptured SJHS audience
certainly had many speculations. Jonathan Sarna
noted that in New York, interreligious adoption was
forbidden at the time, so there was a benevolent
motive in listing a Jewish birth for a child sent
to a Jewish home.


Family Members


  • Created by: Neil Loftiss
  • Added: 27 Jun 2009
  • Find a Grave Memorial 38793539
  • Neil Loftiss
  • Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for Abe David Waldauer (16 Mar 1896–21 Dec 1975), Find a Grave Memorial no. 38793539, citing Temple Israel Cemetery, Memphis, Shelby County, Tennessee, USA ; Maintained by Neil Loftiss (contributor 47136115) .