Biography of Ursula Falk


Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk


Ursula Adler Falk

was 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 exceptional achievement.

After 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. 

The lesson we all learn from this outstanding woman is that America is still the land of opportunity for all willing to work.  

Shalom u'vracha.

 Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including The American Jewish Community in the 20th and 21st Century (2021).

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