Recalling Jewish Aid
Former Hungarian medical student thanks the "Joint" in his
RUTH LITTMANN STAFF WRITER
he young man walked aim-
lessly through the streets
of Gyor, Hungary. In a
daze, he passed soldiers
and sidestepped wires that smol-
dered on the ground between the
remnants of buildings.
This was the man's hometown,
where his parents had raised
him. But World War II had taken
its toll, and the faces on street cor-
ners were of strangers. Even the
voice that greeted him at the
front door of his childhood house
was unrecognizable to the young
"Your parents don't live here
anymore. This is not your home,"
the voice spat before the door
His time in Budapest proved
life-changing, recalls Dr. Ervin
Wolf nearly 50 years later. Sit-
ting in the kitchen of his Mt.
Clemens home, the survivor re-
lates his autobiography, a per-
ilous journey from Hungary to
more prosperous times in Amer-
ica. He retired in 1987 from work
as an obstetrician-gynecologist at
St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Mt.
The success story couldn't have
happened without help from the
worldwide Jewish community,
most specifically the American
Jewish Joint Distribution Com-
mittee (JDC), Dr. Wolf says. He
might never have become a doc-
erodes. Luckily, I have a fan-
tastic memory. Thank God,"
he says. "But as soon as the
memory is gone, it's lost for-
Dr. Wolf already has lost
too much to let that happen.
During the war, he lost his
parents to Auschwitz. After
the war, he lost his freedom
and possessions to the com-
He never lost his resolve.
In Budapest, the famous
university still stood, its mar-
ble columns overwhelming
the young man who had been
confined in settings of small
towns and forced labor camps
during the war.
seemed like a temple," Dr.
Wolf remembers. "It was like
a wonderful different world,
which had been forbidden to
Jews during the war."
The young man's eyes
scoured a bulletin board cov- Dr. Ervin and Judit Wolf today live in Mt. Clemens.
ered with papers. He focused
In 1949, the Jewish hospital very, very bad things."
on one small scrap, an advertise- was nationalized. The commu-
Dr. Wolfs memoirs — all 300
nists, a blessing during the World pages — also document his wife's
War II liberation, became a curse family history, a saga of relatives
to post-war prosperity. JDC with mixed and often dangerous
Seeking eight Jewish
emergency supplies were appro- allegiances, some to Israel, some
priated and "shared" with party to communism.
Room and board provided.
officials. Later, the government
The couple finally escaped
Must be homeless, penniless,
labeled the JDC an espionage Hungary in 1956 during the na-
organization and banned it.
tional revolution. With help from
Dr. Wolf met Judit Vas in 1949 the United Jewish Appeal, HIAS
The young Dr. Wolf met all as political tensions in Hungary and other organizations, they im-
three criteria. He applied for the began to climb. Ms. Vas also be- migrated to the United States, ul-
program and was accepted. At gan studying medicine at Bu- timately resettling in Mt.
the time, he didn't realize it was dapest University. Her uncle was Clemens.
sponsored and paid for by the
The challenges didn't end in
America. Still, Dr. Wolf prefers
"My goal was always to be a
to laugh at the mishaps, obsta-
doctor," he says.
cles and initial disappointments.
The JDC, now in its 80th year,
While retaking his medical ex-
has a long history of providing re-
ams on the East Coast, Dr. Wolf
lief to Jews all over the world.
— who had finished medical
Most recently, the "Joint" has
— Dr. Ervin Wolf school in Hungary with flying col-
helped refugees in Somalia, the
ors — couldn't practice, but had
former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.
to work in an animal testing lab.
Back in Hungary after the World the director of the Jewish hospi- People who hired him reasoned:
War II, it gave people like Dr. tal and a subsequent victim of the Animals don't care if he doesn't
Wolf education, food and shelter. infamous "Doctors Plot," Hun- speak English.
Conditions were grim. The garian style. As in Moscow, com-
Mrs. Wolf also worked in re-
Nazis had used the Jewish hos- munist leaders in Budapest search.
pital — a prestigious medical in- claimed Jewish physicians were
Today, the Wolfs belong to
stitution — as an animal stable. conspirators.
Congregation Beth Tephilath
So when the young Dr. Wolf
Dr. Wolf and Judit married in Moses and are strong supporters
moved into his new basement liv- 1953. The wedding took place on of the Allied Jewish Campaign,
ing quarters, he first had to clean the same January day Judit's un- which in turn supports the agen-
out the horse dung and rid the cle was arrested and charged cies that helped the couple build
shower of rats.
with spying for the Americans a future.
Today, he shrugs at the recol- through the JDC. No one heard
"The money goes to the right
lection. It was home, a place to from him until his release 13 place. I believe it," Dr. Wolf says.
stay. And a chance at becoming months later.
"I benefitted from it. Personal ex-
a doctor. "The fact is I had a roof
"He was never the same," Mrs. perience shows it helps people
over my head and food," he says. Wolf recalls. "He went through help themselves."
seemed like a
A portrait of Judit and Dr. Ervin Wolf.
The 23-year-old man walked tor, never have moved to Detroit,
onward, without knowing where. never have seen his son Robert
A neighbor's maid ran after him become a physician were it not
with old family photo albums she for the benevolence of fellow
had salvaged from the Nazis. The Jews.
young man soon realized the pho-
"I am lucky," he says repeat-
tos were the only link left to his edly, pointing out "miracles" that
parents, whom he never saw befell him during his 72 years.
Dr. Wolf is writing a book
A Holocaust survivor — but about these experiences. The 300-
not by much — he decided to page manuscript conveys vivid
leave Gyor. He wandered down memories, and although Dr. Wolf
to the train station until a loco- admits his English needs an ed-
motive to Budapest thundered in itor's hand, he is determined to
and stopped. The young man rode publish the piece.
the miles out on the roof of the
"As you get older, the memory