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A Twist of Good Fortune

Joseph Fleischmann with his niece

Joe with his niece Janet Gelman. Joe’s gift to ODU established the Joseph Fleischmann Scholarship Endowment for pre-med or nursing students in the College of Health Sciences.

Joseph Fleischmann was born in Nuremberg, Germany, on Oct. 17, 1925. At the time of his birth, the picturesque city was known for its medieval architecture and the Kaiserburg Castle, one of its most famous landmarks.

Nuremberg would also become part of Adolph Hitler’s landscape when the city’s Palace of Justice hosted the Nuremberg Trials—a series of 13 military tribunals between 1945 and 1949 where Nazi war criminals were brought to justice.

Joe’s father had immigrated to the U.S. in the late 1930s and was preparing for his family to join him. Finding his dad’s absence really difficult, young Joe launched a plan to run away and find him in America. He planned to stow away on a ship docked in Le Havre, France, bound for the United States. Unfortunately, after the U.S. and French consuls declined to accommodate him with the needed legal documents, he returned home.

Joe’s family began seeing Hitler’s plans at work in early 1938, when the largest synagogue in Nuremberg was razed. The explanation for its destruction was that “the Asian architecture clashed with the historically Germanic architecture of the area.”

On Nov. 9, 1938, the Nazi government unleashed a program in Germany and Austria—known as Kristallnacht, or Night of the Broken Glass—that destroyed nearly 200 synagogues, ransacked thousands of businesses and killed hundreds of Jews, including Joe’s great uncle, Jakob Schloss. Thousands of others were moved to concentration camps.

On that unforgettable night, Joe, then 13, was visiting his grandfather. They would later learn that a fanatical neighbor had argued with Joe’s mother, slapping her out of anger because her husband was in America, escaping the concentration camps. To protect Joe from being taken in his father’s place, Joe’s grandfather hid him in his attic for a week until the family could safely escape Germany.

Building a Life in the U.S.

The family reunited in Norfolk, Va., where Joe attended Norfolk public schools until June 1940. At age 15, he worked 62-hour weeks to assist with the family’s living expenses. He learned English at Maury High School, where he attended class three nights a week.

At 19, after having seen the ravages of Hitler’s plans firsthand, Joe joined the U.S. Army’s 343rd Division, Infantry Regiment (Blackhawks) in Europe in 1944. He was then sent to the Philippines for amphibious training to prepare for the Feb. 19, 1945, assault on Iwo Jima.

Following the military, Joe returned to Norfolk where he worked as an auditor for the U.S. Treasury Department. At night, he attended the Norfolk division of William and Mary—now ODU—where he received his bachelor’s degree, cum laude, in business administration in June 1956.

Because Joe loved academia, when the head of the business department asked him to teach accounting courses at night, Joe readily agreed. He received his CPA certificate in 1954, and taught until 1963.

Supporting the Future of ODU

Joe lived his life aware of having barely escaped death in the Holocaust and mindful that, only through several complex twists of good fortune, did he survive World War II.

Joe never married. He intentionally lived frugally in order to set up a charitable remainder trust that would benefit several local charities following his death. His gift to ODU established the Joseph Fleischmann Scholarship Endowment for pre-med or nursing students in the College of Health Sciences.

What a fitting tribute to Joe that he will share a twist of good fortune with future ODU students! For more information contact Barbara M. Henley, CFRE at 757-683-6563 or bhenley@odu.edu or Brett A. Smiley, CFRE at 757-683-4735 or bsmiley@odu.edu.

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