A child who grows up in a Jewish home will typically get the message that getting a good education is key. My parents were Jewish immigrants from Poland, who survived the atrocities of World War II, and the emphasis on education was more than key. It was of utmost importance!
If I brought home a report card with anything less than all A’s, my father, Marcus Wohlfeiler, would say “You can do better than that,” not with anger or disappointment, but as a matter of fact and encouragement.
It worked. I was the first in my family to get a college education. And now, looking back as a retired adult, I thank my father for his guidance and confidence in me. His moral support was unwavering, but his ability to financially help with college expenses was minimal. My grades were good enough to earn tuition scholarships, but my other expenses were met through a series of part-
My father was an educated young man, working as an accountant in Krakow
, when Hitler invaded Poland on Sept. 1, l939. When the war ended, my father was free and finally able to immigrate to America in l949. Years later, he recorded his memories of the entire war experience, filling three yellow legal pads with his handwritten account.
Arriving in Ellis Island, with his now-wife, Regina, and then-2-year-old child (me!), his expected sponsor was not waiting for them. Thanks to the help of the Federation, we found a sponsor and supportive community in La Crosse, Wisconsin. We later moved to Milwaukee, where my father gained better employment opportunities. When tragedy struck our family in l959, the Jewish Family and Children’s Service in Milwaukee came to our aid
, in a variety of ways.
Marcus lived a life of gratitude and service. During his retirement, he dedicated hundreds of hours of volunteer time at the Creativity Center of the Milwaukee Association for Jewish Education. He made sample learning materials, and generally helped with anything that needed to be done, always with a “friendly smile.” His efforts were recognized with the Kesselman Award for outstanding contributions in direct service by the elderly.
He also served as a part time sexton for Congregation Emanuel. For 20 years, he made newcomers as comfortable as possible, prepared for services by performing a host of functions, including helping with wedding rehearsals, preparing documents, typing sermons, and generally making sure that everything worked. And when it didn’t, he fixed it!
So, it is with these memories and deep gratitude that we have established this Scholarship Fund, in the hopes that it will help students who are immigrants, or children of immigrants, to receive a college education in spite of limited economic resources. Marcus
, and Rita, his wife of thirty-nine years , who also immigrated from Poland in l938, would be very happy to be supporting young people seeking a college education and becoming contributors to a strong and peaceful society.
Walt Pollock, my life partner, met Marcus and immediately formed a bond over a conversation about my father’s memoirs. We jointly established this fund, feeling that this is the best way to honor my father’s memory.
* * *
About writer Sabina Wohlfeiler
Sabina Wohlfeiler grew up in Milwaukee and was educated at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She taught for 30 years, beginning in Wisconsin and later settling in Portland, Oregon. She was a founding member of ORA: Northwest Jewish Artists, a community of Portland-area Jewish artists. She lives with her partner, Walt Pollock, in Tucson, Arizona; Pacific City, Oregon; and Bainbridge Island, Washington.
* * *
Apply for scholarship or donate
The Marcus and Rita Wohlfeiler Memorial Scholarship Fund will support college scholarships for deserving high school students. Preference will be given to students who are immigrants or children of immigrants who have fled countries in turmoil. The Jewish Community Foundation of Milwaukee Jewish Federation is launching the application process in the spring of 2024, for high school seniors beginning their freshman year in the fall of 2024. Watch MilwaukeeJewish.org/Scholarships for more information or contact or contact Jen Vettrus at 414-390-5722.