In early 1992, a Jewish couple invited a dying man to live with them in their Lincoln home.
For nine months, they tenderly cared for Larry Trapp, a Nazi and former Grand Dragon of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
He died a Jew.
The Journal Star wrote an editorial about the conversion and the love that Michael and Julie Weisser had shown a hate-filled soul.
They dared to meet hatred head-on, with unbounded generosity of spirit. They knew the power of brotherly love. They applied that transforming power. They removed hurt.
It was hard to imagine even then, harder still now.
“He was a hateful guy who’d learned his hate from others and thought it made him a big man,” Michael Weisser, now a semi-retired rabbi, said Monday.
“And his hate was demolished by an act of kindness.”
The Weissers had moved to Lincoln from New York in 1988, after Michael took a position as cantor at the South Street Temple.
They bought a house; their children enrolled in school. It would be a few years later that their phone began to ring on Sundays, a voice on the other end cursing them.
You’ll be sorry you ever moved into that house, Jew Boy.
The KKK is watching you, Scum.
He finally contacted the police after a pile of hate literature showed up in the mailbox, Michael Weisser said.
The police told him to have his children walk a different route home from school every day. They knew of Trapp; so did much of Lincoln.
You can trace the 42-year-old’s story in a thick file of creased clippings in the Journal Star library. “Klan member on trial for disturbing the peace.” “Anti-racism groups seek penalties for sending hate mail.” “Soft-spoken Lincoln man peddles Ku Klux Klan.”
Trapp grew up in Omaha. He needed a wheelchair. He told a newspaper reporter the KKK didn’t believe in violence, that he was simply standing up for the rights of whites. He said the Klan was a brotherhood, like a “sewing circle.”
Trapp had called the NAACP, too. He left messages on the phone of its leader, laced with hate speech and racial slurs.
He’d been fined, spent time in jail, a one-man Klan organizer whose hate wasn’t gaining much public traction.
Weisser didn’t ignore Trapp’s calls. Every week, before bar mitzvah classes, he left his own message on Trapp’s answering machine.
He called them love notes.
Why do you hate me? You don't even know me. Don’t you want people to love you? Don’t you want to be a different person? You’re disabled. Don’t you know the Nazis would have killed you first?
Do you need a ride to the grocery store?
One night, Trapp picked up. He began yelling and cursing, accusing the cantor of harassment.
“He said he’d have me arrested. I said, ‘I just want to talk to you, man.’ And he agreed, not right away, but a week or so later he called me.”
He told Weisser he wanted out, that he wanted to change but he didn't know how.
Against the advice of their children and friends, Michael and Julie showed up at the Grand Dragon’s apartment door on C Street. Trapp opened it, a shotgun slung over the wheelchair’s back and a loaded semi-automatic pistol in his lap.
They talked for three hours.
“He asked me to take all of his hate material away and that he wanted to change his life,” Weisser said.
They took the white hood and the Nazi flag and the racist literature and moved Trapp into their daughter’s room. Julie quit her job to care for the man with late-stage diabetes.
He renounced his membership in the KKK. He apologized to everyone he had hurt.
He tried to explain his life’s path to a newspaper reporter: “I think a lot of it is just hate has been shown to them. It’s a reciprocal type of thing. You’re hated, therefore you hate.”
Trapp lived with the Weissers until his death on Sept. 6, 1992.
The one-time Nazi is buried at Wyuka cemetery, in the South Street Temple section, a Star of David on his headstone.
“Who would have ever thought that?” Weisser said.
The cantor-turned-rabbi is 77 now. He and Julie are long divorced. He left for New Zealand and then New York before returning to Lincoln and retirement.
On occasion, people will stop him. Aren’t you that cantor? Didn’t you help the Klansman?
“It doesn’t happen very often anymore.”
Anymore, Weisser worries about his country; the propaganda, the hate he sees, the unstable minds turning hate into action, like the Shabbat massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.
The story of the Jewish couple in Lincoln and the Jew hater they befriended makes me think about the what-ifs.
Weisser doesn’t have all the answers.
“You can reach out to people in kindness and a lot of times it can make a difference. Not always.”
But we have jobs as human beings, the rabbi says.
“One of the jobs we have as human beings is to be nice to other human beings,” the rabbi says. “Maybe if there are enough of us being nice it will spread, like a geometric progression.”
One act of kindness upon another.