Dr. Gerhard Falk
born in Bad Mergentheim, a town of 23,000 inhabitants. The term “Bad,” or
“bath” in English, indicates that the town is spa whose facilities reputedly
cured arthritis and all kinds of diseases. In the twentieth century, the town
had a few hundred Jewish citizens, whose community was destroyed by the mostly
Catholic population during November 10-11 , 1938, when the town rabbi was
assaulted and the only synagogue burned down. The 41 Jews still found there in
1941 were deported and murdered.
The Adler family escaped because Ursula’s father. Albert, was granted a visa
when a relative signed an affidavit of support for him. He fled through Belgium
during Kristallnacht, leaving his wife Sophie Neubauer Adler and three children
behind. Once in America he succeeded in getting the help of the Jewish community
of Weirton, West Virginia, where he was sent by HIAS, to finance the immigration
of his family, who followed him to Weirton in 1939. The family then moved to
Cleveland, Ohio, during the Second World War, as Albert found a job there that
paid better than freezing in a cooler for a Jewish owner of a dairy in
Weirton. As was true of almost all German Jews who came to the United States
during World War II, the Adlers were ridiculed, insulted, and demeaned by the
American Jewish community, who were as hostile to the German Jews as President
Franklin Roosevelt, who did all he could to keep German Jews from coming to the
United States. It is no exaggeration that Roosevelt was a co-conspirator of the
mass murder of the German Jews during the reign of Hitler.
Once in Cleveland, Ohio, Ursula attended high school during the day but
also worked in a defense factory every night to earn money in order to
eventually pay for a college education which her parents could not afford. It is
hard to understand how anyone could attend school full time and then work eight
hours during the night in a factory. This was possible during the war because 16
million men were serving in the armed forces, and a severe labor shortage was
responsible for hiring a sixteen year old girl to work through the night. Ursula
became a student at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, after graduating from high
school. Short of money, she paid for the tuition but had very little money left
for food. She therefore did all kinds of odd jobs for fellow students and some
faculty to earn food money while attending classes.
Ursula spent the summer in Cleveland with her family after finishing one year of
college. That summer she met Gerhard Falk, a native of Hamburg, Germany, and
also a Holocaust survivor who had been discharged from the U.S. Army and
was attending Western Reserve University. They were married two years later
after Gerhard had earned an M.A. degree and began his teaching career at a
college in South Dakota. Subsequently Ursula and Gerhard moved to Philadelphia,
where Ursula enrolled at Temple University. Her Temple credits were accepted at
Ohio University. She then was awarded a full scholarship to Bryn Mawr College.
Bryn Mawr is an expensive college for women near Philadelphia. There Ursula
graduated with an M.S.W. Shortly thereafter, her first child, Cynthia, was born.
When Gerhard was appointed to the faculty of the State University College at
Buffalo, the family, including their second child, Daniel, moved to that city.
Ursula promptly found work with a social service agency and by means of an
in-house child care helper became an administrator of five Christian nursing
homes. She later also worked as an administrator for a home for children. While
taking care of her family, which now included a third child, Clifford, she not
only dealt with her professional responsibilities but also enrolled at the
University of Buffalo, where she earned a doctor’s degree. This was indeed an
astonishing achievement. Admittedly one need not be Einstein to earn an academic
doctorate. Nevertheless, the requirements are not easy. It takes two years of
course work past the master’s degree, ability to read two foreign languages,
passing the graduate record examination, passing a five part preliminary
examination in order to be admitted to writing a tree hundred page book called
by the French word “dissertation” and then defending the dissertation to a
faculty committee. It needs to be understood that one half of all who attempt
earning an academic doctorate cannot write a dissertation. Yet, Ursula wrote a
unique book entitled “A History of the Discipline of Social Work in the United
States.” Her adviser had her present that dissertation to a class of graduate
students as an example of what a dissertation should be. How she was able to
write that book while working full time and managing her family is indeed an
earning the doctorate, Ursula founded a practice as a psychotherapist, from
which she retired recently. During the years she worked in her private practice,
she wrote twelve books, including “On Our Own,” which deals with the life of
widows and widowers, “The Nursing Home Dilemma” , “The American Drug
Culture,” and others.
lesson we all learn from this outstanding woman is that America is still the
land of opportunity for all willing to work.
Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous
publications, including The
American Jewish Community in the 20th and 21st Century (2021).