Josef Fleischmann

by | Mar 20, 2015 | Obituaries

Norfolk—Josef Fleischmann died on March 10, 2015 at his home on Armfield Circle.

He was born in October 1925 to Ida Wechsler and Samuel Fleischmann in Nuremberg, Germany (the city of the 1946- 1947 War Crimes Trials.) He only escaped death in the WWII Holocaust because his immediate family immigrated to Norfolk, Va. in late November 1938.

At age 12, Joseph had run away from home on a bicycle, planning to join his father, already in New York, by stowing away on a U.S. bound ship in Le Havre, France. But when both the “unreasonable” U.S. and French consuls declined to accommodate him with needed legal documents, he went home.

During “Kristallnacht” a particularity fanatic stormtrooper neighbor slapped Josef’s mother. He was angry and frustrated over Josef’s father having escaped death in a concentration camp by making it to America. Fortunately, Josef was visiting his grandfather at the time, or this influential Nazi might have substituted Josef in place of his father (due to his being very big for a 13-year-old). Josef slept in his grandfather’s attic for the following week.

Kristallnacht was a pogrom organized and orchestrated by the Nazi government. Meant to appear spontaneous, it resulted in almost 1,000 Jewish men being murdered (including Josef’s great uncle, Jakob Schloss) and thousands sent to concentration camps for many weeks thereafter. Synagogues were torched and forever closed. Until the current Holocaust Memorial Day (Yom HaShoah) was proclaimed in 1953, Kristallnacht was observed as such.

The largest synagogue in Nuremberg had been razed earlier in 1938 on the city council’s orders. The given reason (as though any was needed) was that the Oriental looking building clashed with the “historically Germanic” architecture of the area.

Josef attended Norfolk Public School until June 1940, when he was encouraged to help with family living expenses. While working illegally—62 hours per week on Church Street—at age 15, Josef attended Matthew Fountain Maury High School three nights per week for English classes. Josef served in the U.S. armed forces from April 1944 until June 1946, mostly with the U.S. 343rd infantry regiment (Blackhawks) in Europe, where he lost 50% of his hearing. He also served in combat in the Philippines, for which his division had taken amphibious training for assaulting Iwo Jima. He survived WWII due to several complex twists of good fortune and because God answered MOST of his prayers with an emphatic “NO.”

Josef worked as an auditor for the U.S. Treasury Department from 1951 until 1984. Attending the Norfolk Division of the College of William and Mary, mostly at night, he received his B.S. in Business Administration, Cum Laude, in June 1956 with 160 credits. Although for economic and familial responsibility reasons, Josef was an “8th grade school dropout,” the College matriculated him on the basis of a special test. Josef so loved academia that at the request of the head of the Business Department, after graduation, he taught accounting courses at night until his treasury job required too much travel in 1963. He received his C.P.A certificate (#888) in 1954. Josef founded the Evening College Club in 1955 and was elected its first president.

Josef regularly delivered “Meals on Wheels” for Jewish Family Service of Tidewater for 16 years, until a near fatal accident in 2006. He was a member of B’nai Israel (and its predecessor congregations) since 1947 and Senior Clubs of the J.C.C since 1990. He lived a frugal life, and so he was able to leave a Charitable Remainder Trust to the Tidewater Jewish Foundation and Jewish Family Service.

Josef was predeceased by his beloved parents and his only sibling, Rachel Fleischmann Schramm of Teaneck, N.J. and Boca Raton, Fla.

He is survived by nieces Diana Holtzman (Kenneth) of White Plains, N.Y. and Janet Ida Gelman of Livingston, N.J.; grandnephews David Holtzman (Michelle), Jason Gelman, and Adam Gelman of N.Y.C. and grandniece Lauren Raditz (Brett) of Voorhees, N.J.; and three great grandnephews and nieces.

Josef was buried in the Cedar Lawn Cemetery with Rabbi Sender Haber officiating. Memorial contributions can be sent to a charity of choice or Jewish Family Service.