Leon L. Wolfe (1916-2007)

Leon L. Wolfe, who survived the Płaszów, Gross-Rosen, and Langenbielau concentration camps and went on to play a prominent role in Jewish education and Shoah remembrance, died in Ann Arbor, Michigan on July 7, 2007. Born Löbel Wolf in Kraków, Poland in 1916, his law studies at the Jagiellonian University of Kraków were interrupted by the War. In 1941, Wolfe married Henia Karmel. Together they were interned in the Kraków Ghetto and the Płaszów concentration camp. After being separated to different camps in 1943, Wolfe was liberated by the Russian Army and returned to Kraków to search for his family. There he learned that his mother, along with the nine brothers and sisters who were still in Europe, had perished. As well, he was told that Henia, her sister Ilona, and their mother had been killed by they were run over by a German tank during the Buchenwald death march, but that a manuscript of the sisters’ poems had survived. Undeterred, Wolfe searched for Henia for six months, finally discovering that she and Ilona, while badly injured, were alive in a Leipzig hospital. Wolfe brought the sisters home and eventually gained entry to Sweden before immigrating to New York in 1948.
Wolfe was a teacher and principal in numerous New York City-area Hebrew schools before working as the director of the Department of Youth and Education at the Jewish National Fund. Following his retirement from JNF, he worked as curator at the Judaica Museum of the Hebrew Home for the Aged in Riverdale. He supported Henia in resuming her writing, and celebrated the publication of her short stories and novels. After Henia died, Wolfe married the artist and sculptor Rita Rapaport, z”l. Wolfe was a highly sought-after speaker in elementary and secondary schools, where he shared his experiences in a manner that engaged and deeply moved the students. He was a co-founder of the Westchester Holocaust Commission (now known as the Westchester Holocaust and Human Rights Education Commission) and was instrumental in the creation of the Garden of Remembrance in White Plains, New York, whose centerpiece is “The Gates of Remembrance,” sculpted by Rita.
Most recently, Wolfe saw a long-standing dream come true when Henia and Ilona’s wartime poems, translated into English by the American poet Fanny Howe, were published as “A Wall of Two: Poems of Resistance and Suffering from Kraków to Buchenwald and Beyond.” To the end of his 91 years, he was a source of boundless wisdom and love to his two children and his five grandchildren. May his memory be for a blessing.