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Holocaust Memorial Education Center

Shimon and Sara Birnbaum Jewish Community Center

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Descendant Profile








    Walter (Wally) Yosafat was born in Cincinnati Ohio in 1960.  His parents, still alive and well as of this writing (7/5/21) are Matt Yosafat and Anneliese Leopold Yosafat.  Matt was born in Katerini Greece in 1936, and he along with his siblings, Jacob and Bea, and his parents, David and Lena Yosafat escaped Nazi Germany‘s occupation of Greece and the deportation of those residents not fleeing Katerini to the death camps. Anneliese (Ann) was born in Leipzig, Germany in 1937 and escaped from Germany, going underground in Bludenz, Austria, living as Christians until the war was over, coming out as Jews and being forced to leave for the US around 1950.  Matt and Ann and their families came to the US through New York and settled separately in Cincinnati.  They met in the late 1950s in Cincinnati on a blind date arranged by Matt’s female cousin.  They married in November 1959 and had Wally in September of the following year.  Wally has two sisters, Lynn and Debbie who, like Matt and Ann, reside in the suburbs of Cincinnati.

    Wally is married to his lovely wife, Denise (Dee) for over 34 years and they have three beautiful adult children, Jacob (Jake), Ariella and Dylan. Wally and Dee live in Bridgewater New Jersey.  Both of them have been and remain active members of Temple Sholom in Bridgewater.  Wally served on the synagogue board and co-led the Jewish Life Committee. Wally actively leads services and reads Torah and Haftorah on a frequent basis. Wally is also immediate past president of Jewish Family Service of Somerset, Hunterdon and Warren Counties. An active member of the Holocaust Memorial and Education Center Committee, he serves as its recording secretary since 2016.  Currently, Wally serves as the tri-counties representative on the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Mercer Board.

    Wally has many business and work interests, primarily serving as the Chief Information Officer of Vibrant Emotional Health, a New-York-City-based non-profit focused on suicide prevention.



    My testimonial is a reflection and remembrance about a survivor relation that I never met but means perhaps the most to me in my life.

    It really wasn’t until the 1970s when I was a teenager and prior to my Bar Mitzvah that I really began to understand the full story of my families’ living through and surviving the Holocaust. I grew up relatively well-protected in a middle-class neighborhood, Finneytown, a suburb of Cincinnati Ohio.  Preparation for my Bar Mitzvah began when I was around 11 or 12 years old and as I began to study for and would further expand upon my Jewish education and skills in reading prayers, chanting melodies and tropes, leading services, learning to read Torah and Haftorah.

    I was privileged to grow up with two wonderful and loving parents and would learn their stories of survival, coming from my father’s family fleeing from Greece and my mother’s family escaping from Germany. Both had amazing stories to share of how they survived the chasing, hunt down and in one case early concentration camp experiences to come to meet in Cincinnati, marry and raise a family. My neighborhood and school district were perhaps 1-2% Jewish.  I was privileged to experience early life in my father’s very small Sephardic congregation and around the time I was five years old, we moved to Finneytown. Shortly afterwards, I began to attend Hebrew School and we became members of an Ashkenazic congregation based in Finneytown.


    As I began, my story of a close survivor relation is actually of a person I never was privileged to meet.  My father‘s family gave me an additional privilege in that I grew up with both my paternal grandfather and grandmother. Theirs are stories in and of themselves of amazement and for another time and place.  I was also privileged to live with my maternal grandmother, Hilda who moved in with us upon her retirement from being a nurse at the Orthodox Jewish Home for the Aged in Cincinnati.


    Missing from my privilege was my maternal grandfather, Walter and it is his story that has the most impact upon my life.  My formal name is Walter Abraham Yosafat and in good Ashkenazic fashion and for a number of reasons, I was privileged to be named after him.  I was the first grandchild on either side and I am sure my parents determined that the first child would be named in some way after Walter, and being born a boy, the naming was perhaps pre-ordained!


    I am told that I have some of his many good qualities. Walter was a studious, semi-religious man in that the religion was extremely important to him but he was conservative in practice as we are today. Walter cared for his family above all else and would do anything to see them do well and prosper. Walter’s story is a long one and is documented in the book,Defiant German Defiant Jew: A Holocaust Memoir from Inside the Third Reich.

    I will summarize here in hopes of some brevity.

    Walter was born in Ottoweiler, Germany in 1898.  He married the loved of his life Hilda in 1930 and moved to Leipzig.  Their daughter Ann, my mother was born in 1937 in Leipzig.  There was the possibility of a brother who unfortunately was stillborn. So, the unity of these three people is very special and holds great meaning for me and if it were not for each one of them doing their part, they would not have survived and made it to the US and freedom. The reason that I never met grandpa Walter, or my Opa, is because he died of what would be a massive stroke or heart attack in 1951. This unfortunate early death came so very shortly after Walter had guided his family through the war and the journey to and settlement into the United States and Cincinnati.  


    Walter was begged by his brothers Alex and Max in the early 1930s to leave Germany and come to the US. Walter, the eternal optimist, believed that life would get better and that events in Germany would pass and there were better days ahead. Walter himself was sent to Buchenwald in October, 1938 and was released after three weeks of a living hell.   The main reason for his release was his earning of German war medals in World War I and he was sent home to Hilda who met him at the train station and was told to emigrate immediately.  They unfortunately did not as they were unable to obtain at that point the needed visas for the US.  Hilda helped him to recover physically from his Buchenwald experience. However, the emotional scars and memories left Walter with the knowledge of what was happening and his increasing dealings with the Nazis given his Jewish community leadership role. Walter made the difficult decision that through forged paperwork and passports, he with Hilda and Ann would go underground, into Austria, taking on Christian identities. The three had been ordered to go to Theresienstadt and Walter knew what would happen to them from there.  So, he took matters into his own hands and fled to Bludenz, itself no safer than life in Germany. 


    Walter’s story along with that of Hilda and Ann had many twists and turns and the fact that they survived is a series of miracles in itself.  After the war was over, Walter revealed the true identity of himself and his family to the town’s people of Bludenz. They begged Walter and his family to convert and offered them many great opportunities, including the appointment of Walter as mayor if they would only convert.  Walter refused, staying true to his faith and to his family, to his true name.  The town reacted by saying that he could not stay or it would no longer be safe or beneficial for him and the family to remain in Bludenz.


    As shared earlier, Walter passed away too soon to have his family truly settled in Cincinnati. He had earned his doctorate in Germany and was a wonderful leader and teacher there.  He decided upon Cincinnati on the promise of a great teaching position at the University of Cincinnati (where I wound up attending) but he never received the equivalent recognition and job opportunities that he’s so desired in a new land. He left a young wife and a young daughter who had to fend for themselves and my grandmother Hilda’s story of what she did for her family and me is just as inspirational and meaningful a story as is Walter’s. 


    Hilda Leopold lived to the bright old age of 97 until a stroke ended her long run and took her down over a short two-week period of time. She like Walter believed in one thing above all else and that was family and many times she would guide and coach me on the importance of family and in the spirit of “nothing is impossible.”  This was exemplified by having one hip replaced at 90 and the second hip being replaced at 95 and the doctors both times getting her up and walking within hours of surgery as an example to other patients in the hospital of “nothing is impossible.”


    I should say that my father Matt and his parents David and Lena were just as brave and also believed in the power of family and positivity and never giving up. The reason that I relate the story of Walter and focus on him above others even above Hilda who I was privileged to be with for 37 wonderful years is because I truly believe I am who I am because of him.


    My name, my mannerisms, my reminder to always seek a different solution if the one I’m pursuing fails, to live for the day, to grow the family and see them to be successful… all of this comes to me because of Walter.  Around the time of my Bar Mitzvah, my mother gave me a gold ring that was the creation of Walter. He had taken other pieces of gold and melted them down and formed a ring that had a front facing with an insignia of his initials… WL. More than its standing for Walter Leopold, it stands for me as Will Live.  My mother gave me that ring, saying that Walter would’ve wanted me to have it and I will never relinquish it!


    I can never, in my mind, and thus never will be the man that Walter was. But I can work every day to live by his example. After all, I hopefully will never experience what he had to and I will hopefully never be tested in the ways he was so many times.  I have often asked myself the question at times of struggle or debate “what would Walter think and do?”  And I don’t know and will never know if he would do the same as I have chosen or agree with my decision. But I do know that he would test the question or frame the debate according to how it would benefit the family and how it would go against the odds of success or failure.  Walter was never afraid to sacrifice himself for the benefit of his family, and although he never achieved the level of financial success he worked so hard for, or climb back to where he was economically before the war, Walter made the most of the life and time God gave him.  It is as if he was destined to get his family to the promised land but not enjoy the fruits of his labor. 


    Though I truly hope that the day doesn’t come for many, many years into the future, I do look forward with anticipation to when I can greet Walter in heaven, hug him, cry with him and thank him for being so much of an influence on my life. Seeing him for the first time alongside my beloved Omi Hilda is something I think about and gives me a sense of joy and relief when the time comes to depart this earth.  I hope to do so with the opportunity in heaven that I never had on earth to meet and know him.  May Walter’s name and memory, along with those of Hilda, David, Lena and all those we lost in or survived the Holocaust and have passed be for blessings upon us all forever. Zachor.

  • Sources and Credits:


    Biography 2021 by Walter Yosafat; Testimonial Reflection and Remembrance by Walter Yosafat 2021; Digital Historic and Family photographs donated by Walter Yosafat.