In Memory of Eugene John Woolrich, z”l

The American Gathering offers their sincere condolences to Serena Woolrich, president of allgenerations and the searches editor fo Together. May she and her family be comforted among the mourners of Zion.

Eulogy delivered by Dr. Andrew Woolrich, April 15, 2007.

In the beginning there was a small town in Transylvania called Szilagy Shomlyo. In the end there was New York and West Palm Beach.

I mention this for two reasons: first, in the 60 or so years he raised his children we can honestly count on one hand the number of times we pronounced it correctly to his satisfaction. Second, it provides a broad timeline that encompasses one of the most remarkable and admirable lives of most people given life, and especially for one who survived the concentration camps of Europe.

Being born into the Satmar sect of ultra orthodox Judaism did not stop him from rebelling against authority as a child. His tales of misadventure with the rabbis and getting kicked out of school are numerous. Although he would boast with a sense of pride when he referred to his 4th grade diploma, he would go on to become one of the most knowledgeable and self educated individuals I have ever known.

When WWII came to eastern Europe his mischievous talents fit well with the activities of the Romanian resistance movement. Sabotaging and blowing things up became his occupation.

He was caught a few times and spent time in and out of slave labor camps, passing himself off as whatever was necessary to survive and help others survive. He survived Sarvar, Auschwitz, Mauthausen, Melk, and was liberated from Ebensee by the American Army on May 7, 1945.

Our childhood was inundated with mesmerizing tales of heroism and survival, but he would always make it clear to us that beyond being fit to work, every day survival depended on one and only one thing – “luck” – not any great talent of his.

After liberation he wandered through Europe working with U.S. Intelligence, interrogating captured war criminals.

He pursued his dream of going to Palestine or America. After stowing away and bribing the right people he arrived in Baltimore on June 10, 1946, one of the first survivors to arrive in the U.S. A day that would be celebrated over the years like a birthday. To further symbolize his liberation he always led our Passover Seders wearing his concentration camp jacket and cap.

He made his way to New York, married my mother, Rachel, z”l, and raised a family on Long Island. He worked endless hours building his construction business, Weiss and Woolrich Contracting Co. Inc.

His success in business allowed him the opportunity and the facility (his office) to play poker, and play poker, and play poker, which became an obsession with him. He liked to refer to himself as a “greenhorn,” coming to this country practically penniless, but through his hard work and poker games was able to put his four children through university and beyond.

After my parents’ divorce, he learned to cook in order to feed his son and youngest daughter. My father lived a can do life. There were never problems, only solutions.

Similarly to his son, he was a great athlete, an outdoorsman; soccer player, bowler, handball player, and eventually, like all Americans, he loved baseball. He ingrained in all of us a strong love of country and patriotism (never forgetting the Americans who liberated him).

He was the decisive one, the one we all went to for answers. If ever there was a backbone to a family, he was it.

As he aged and we nagged him to take his medicine and eat right, he would always answer with the refrain, “If Hitler couldn’t kill me, then nothing can”…except time. Well, time was on his side; he lived a remarkable 82 years of life, never complaining, never asking for help, never mourning what could have been . . . no regrets.

His greatest source of pleasure in his later years was his second wife, Ann, who unfortunately only got to know him in later life.

As we all age we sort of slip into the tendency to see each other as they are now; older, arthritic, slower, more stubborn, more irascible and set in ones’ ways, and we lose sight of what the person was for the majority of their lives. My father was always stubborn and set in his ways, but the other factors, never. The factors associated with aging, especially forgetfulness, loss of movement and hearing, were wearing on him, but he was still happy each and every day to be alive.

Perhaps his memories of what happened to the old and sick in the concentration camps, perhaps his disdain for having to be constantly cared for allowed him to make another decision, one of sound mind. He had finally had enough. What would have or should have killed others many times before was catching up to him and he knew it.

He made a decision, one of millions of others he made before. To be sure, it was a shock at first to hear from a man who had a ubiquitous love of life to suddenly say he is ready to welcome death, was unacceptable to us at first. But with time we realized as often he was, he was right.

The last conversation I had with him the day before he died confirmed everything. While still intubated, I asked him if we were clear on our prior discussion and though he had tears in his eyes he managed a smile and squeezed each others’ hand and we said goodbye.

Though I cried, it is a happy memory for me because this is what he wanted. He is pain free and unencumbered by the limits of our physicality.

He was an amazing man and wonderful father who helped so many people. He will be missed.

Dad, I love you and will always think of you. Andrew

Mr. Woolrich is survived by his loving family: his wife, Ann, and his children Serena Woolrich, of Washington, DC, Dr. Audrey Woolrich of New York, NY, Dr. Andrew Woolrich, of New York, NY, and was predeceased by his daughter, Dr. Felice Woolrich, of Short Hills, NJ. He is also survived by his grandchildren; Karen DeRosa, Dan DeRosa, Jessica Taubman, Ashley Taubman, Gabi Janowitz and Zoe Woolrich.