A life of gratitude and generosity: Joseph Fleischmann

by | Sep 19, 2019 | Other News

Janet Gelman and Joseph Fleischmann.

Janet Gelman and Joseph Fleischmann.

In 1938, Joseph Fleischmann, along with his mother, Ida, and sister, Rachel, fled Nuremberg, Germany. It was the end of a cold November, just weeks after a period of devastating violence known as Kristallnact or Night of Broken Glass. Members of Fleischmann’s family, like many other Jews across Germany and Austria, had been attacked during the episode. It was clear that things would get much worse.

During the two days of destruction and bloodshed, a hysterical neighbor had slapped his mother because she was furious over her husband having escaped to the United States before he could be sent to a concentration camp. Then just 13 years old, Joseph was hidden in his grandfather’s attic to protect him from being sent to the camps in his father’s place. His great uncle, Jakob Schloss was murdered.

Samuel Fleischmann, Joseph’s father, was sponsored by distant cousins and had finally been able to send for his wife and children. It was just in time. Other extended family members found refuge in Israel or South America, but many would remain trapped in Europe. The Fleischmanns lost countless loved ones to the Nazis.

The family settled in Norfolk. Like many families that fled the Nazis and found themselves in Tidewater, they were welcomed by the community and by one woman in particular, Justine Nusbaum. Described as a “one woman social services department,” Nusbaum helped the Fleischmanns settle in to their new home. She made sure the children had school clothes and the family had plenty of food. They would never forget her kindness.

Fleischmann attended school for a few years, but in 1940, he left his studies to work and help support his family. At 19, he joined the United States Army and served in the 343rd Infantry Regiment in Europe, where he saw active combat and lost part of his hearing. After Europe, he was sent to the Pacific and in 1945, he took part in the attack on Iwo Jima.

After the war, Fleischmann returned to Norfolk where he attended night school at the satellite campus for the College William & Mary, now Old Dominion University. He eventually earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration and his CPA certification. After a long and successful career, he retired as an auditor for the United States Treasury.

Fleischmann considered himself fortunate. He survived the Holocaust and his years of service in WWII, was supported by a generous community when he and his family were refugees, and benefited from educational opportunities that set him on a path for a successful career. Despite never marrying or having children, he lived a rich life filled with friends and loved ones.

He was a beloved member of B’nai Israel and, after his retirement, was a daily visitor to the Simon Family Jewish Community Center where he participated in the Seniors Program and used the computers to keep in touch with his family.

Fleischmann believed in giving back and spent many years teaching accounting in the same night school program that had made such a difference in his life. In addition, he volunteered with Jewish Family Service, working with Meals on Wheels.

When he died in 2015, his family was surprised to learn that he had quietly amassed a small fortune and had made arrangements to leave significant gifts to charity. His gifts include an endowed scholarship at his alma mater, Old Dominion University and continued support to benefit senior programming at the Simon Family JCC. Fleischmann chose his niece, Janet Gelman, to serve as an advisor on his fund at the Tidewater Jewish Foundation. His generous spirit lives on through her and her sister, Diana, and his continuing support of the causes he cherished most.

“He always felt lucky to be here and to be alive,” Gelman says. “And he never forgot Justine Nusbaum and the generosity she showed his family after they escaped from Nuremburg. I think it made it hard for him to spend money on things and himself. Despite the wealth he accumulated, he lived very frugally. He never had a fancy car or apartment. He had a lot but all he wanted to do was give it to people that needed it.”

Kaitlyn Oelsner

For more information about how to make a lasting charitable impact, contact Kaitlyn Oelsner, director of philanthropy for Tidewater Jewish Foundation, at koelsner@ujft.org or 757-965-6103.