A Tribute to Joseph Gottfried

Newspaper Obituary

On February second Joseph Gottfried of West Palm Beach, Florida passed away. Born in 1920, in Sarajevo in the former Yugoslavia, he survived World War II and lived for a number of years in Italy before moving to New York in 1949. He eventually moved to Florida, where he spent the last 32 years of his life.
Throughout his long life he was deeply involved in promoting an understanding of Yugoslav, Jewish and Israeli affairs.  He was active in the Association of Yugoslav Jews in the United States, Free Synagogue of Flushing, the Jewish Federation, Temple Judea and was a frequent speaker and lecturer for the Commission for Jewish Education of the Palm Beaches.  A passionate man, he spoke and wrote on myriad topics that interested him, ranging from US economics to Israeli politics.  

Joseph was an engineer who owned and ran a roofing business in New York, prior to moving to Florida in 1980, where he continued to work as a consultant until he fully retired.  He was a member of the American Arbitration Association.

He married Bianca in New York, New York on July 3, 1952.  In addition to Bianca, his wife of over 60 years, he is survived by his children, Margaret Gottfried Miller of Teaneck, New Jersey, her two children Joshua and Alyson and Mark Gottfried of Biscayne Park, Florida.

In lieu of flowers the family would like contributions sent to either Mazon (P.O. Box 96119, Washington, DC 20090) or Friends of Yad Sarah (450 Park Ave FL 7, New York, NY 10022-2750).

Mark Gottfried's Eulogy

I want to say there are no words to describe my father. But, he wouldn’t tolerate that as an excuse or explanation. For Joe, there were always words. 

My father led a long a rich life. He led what could have been four lives. First growing up in Sarajevo and becoming a young engineer and then an officer in the Yugoslav army. Then he led a life in Italy, during World War II in Rome as Pancrazzio Ferreti,  and after the war working for the British in Naples.  Stories of that time – hiding in the Vatican or tutoring in a brothel during the war, or after, as a dashing cavalier spending weekends with princes, journalists and gangsters on Capri, lived in his memories and our conversations. Then a third full life in New York as a engineer with his own business, raising a family. And, finally for the past 30 years as a semi-retired and then retired gentleman of letters and leisure, sharing his interests through lectures with the community.

 While he was trained as an engineer and worked in construction, his profession didn’t limit or define him. He was a renaissance man, interested in everything. He was never bored, because the world fascinated him.  He was curious about everything and faced the world with a fierce intellect.

 My father lived each moment to its fullest. He didn’t postpone things. He loved to travel, and travel he did-from Israel to Jamaica, from Vienna to the water falls at Iguazu. He was always full of life and his sense of humor was legendary. He ruined most photographs with the irrepressible twinkle in his eye.

 I’m not sure it is possible to count the number of times he visited his beloved Jamaica. But, it wasn’t like he was in a rut. He visited dozens of islands and countries on five continents.

 My wife and I traveled with Joe and Bianca on several trips, through Europe visiting the haunts of his younger years as well as exploring places he had never visited before like Moscow, Rio and Buenos Aires. He was a joy to travel with as his curiosity exploded in new places.  He was always starting conversations with strangers, eager to explore their world. He would start with, “Where are you from?” and work his way to politically incorrect questions that on more than one occasion endangered all our lives.

 I am rich for knowing him as a child and growing up with him as a role model.  I am richer for knowing him as a young man as he never failed to show me what a man was. I am still richer for knowing him as a mature adult and sharing wonderful times with him.

 Tradition says that we live as long as someone remembers us.

I would like to imagine beyond that, we live as long as our ideas resonate with someone still alive.  My father then will live not only as long as all those who knew him, but as long as my thousands of students live. They never knew him, but his view of life, his sense of humor, his outlook on life permeate my own relationships with them. Like ripples in a pond, his grace and charm have spread into the universe. Those I have influenced as a teacher owe him a debt of gratitude.

 He was a good man in the best sense of those words.  Everyone loved my father, but mostly that was a reflection of the way he saw the world. My father saw the good in everyone, and faced the world with a dignity and grace that I will always envy.

 We are all made from atoms that were forged in the hearts of stars. 

My father lived his life with the wit, wisdom, and the twinkle in his eye that would make our star parents proud.

He never failed to remind Margie and me of how proud he was of us, his children, and of Josh and Aly, his grandchildren.  If it isn’t presumptuous for a son to be proud of his father, rest assured, I am proud to be his son, and I couldn’t tell him that often enough.

We, his family and friends, are lucky to have had him for as many years as we did. 

If I am even part the man, the human being, my father was, I will be satisfied with my life.

Iguazu Florence
Rome Tel Aviv

Margie Gottfried Miller's Eulogy

It has happened.  The day that we all knew was coming but didn’t REALLY believe would ever come, has arrived.  Last summer, I read my father something I had written.  He was quiet for a minute and then he said that although he had planned to write his own eulogy, he was satisfied that I could do it when the time came.  The time has come.

My father was an extraordinary man in so many ways but perhaps one of his most outstanding qualities was his young and curious and lively soul.  In a few days, he would have been 93 but somehow we all thought he would live forever.  He was physically vigorous and healthy most of his life but beyond that, he was charming. Everyone knows how erudite Joe was, but what made him special was that he wasn’t obnoxious about being brainy. He was fun and often silly.  All of you who knew Joe knew that one of life’s high points was an animated conversation or even a juicy debate with my father.  He was full of interesting tidbits, but beyond the sheer magnitude of his knowledge, he brought humanity and wit to any exchange. 

My father had a rare and attractive personality, which drew all kinds of people to him.  He made you think and he was often provocative. But he was also an attentive listener, and all his interactions were full of humor and respect. 

Time and again throughout his life, my father benefitted from what he considered to be lucky circumstances.  He and a young friend escaped from Yugoslavia just before hundreds of thousands of fellow Jews became trapped by the Nazi nightmare.  During World War II, there were so many times that a split-second decision, a left turn instead of a right turn, a serendipitous conversation made the difference between life and an almost certain death.  As he started to face his mortality, Joe thought a great deal about his astounding good fortune but he was never able to truly wrap his mind around it.  It remained a conundrum to him: how (and why??) did he survive, relatively unscathed, when all around him, millions suffered unspeakably?  He told me that he was never even unemployed.  He worked his last day of a job before he boarded a ship for the United States.  In later years, he recovered from a heart attack and survived hurricanes, living much longer than almost all of his peers.  My father considered his luckiest break, though, to be his marriage to Bianca, which sustained and nurtured him for more than 60 years.  Their relationship was intimate and real, and remains a model not only for my brother and me, but for friends and acquaintances, too. 

You don’t want to hear from Joe’s daughter about his efforts on behalf of Israel and the Jewish people, or his business achievements, or his political leanings.  You want to know about him as a person and as a father and grandfather, a brother and an uncle.  I don’t think I will be giving away family secrets to say that my Dad wasn’t super comfortable with babies and toddlers.  Don’t get me wrong: he was proud to be a papa and delighted to be a Grandpa, but he didn’t relate well to infants.  However, his enjoyment of young people grew when they were old enough to play chess, understand corny puns, talk about soccer, or fantasize about exotic trips.  Within the last year, my son Josh kept up a lively e-mail correspondence about chess with “Tata (as he called him),” and my daughter Aly was able to introduce him to her boyfriend, Mike.  Recognizing my Dad’s true essence, Mike came back from that visit last year and pronounced him to be a “really cool guy.”  How great is that when a 26-year-old and a 92-year-old can genuinely enjoy each other’s company??

I learned how to “be” in the world from my Dad: how to be civilized, how to be respectful, how to be responsible, ethical, and dependable; how to save $; how to be generous; how to be fair; how to be funny without being offensive; and how to be unconditionally loving and supportive to my children.  I also learned how to live a long and joyful life.  You will live in our hearts forever.


Wedding 57th Anniversary
Buenos Aires Off to Jamaica 2012

Words from Joshua Miller
To me, Tata was the most interesting man in the world. I'm sad because I know I will never meet anyone like him again. Men just aren't made like that anymore. A survivor, a chess master, a teacher, someone who spoke so many languages, who had so much knowledge for one person. Someone so awesome. That's what I'll miss, his awesomeness.

I'm happy that I was able to spend time with him this year. Really show my girlfriend, Catalina, the kind of man he was. I think he liked her, the way he spoke with her. Like he was a young guy again. She found him so interesting. One time when he was telling us stories about the war, she started to cry and he felt so badly that he stopped. Ill miss those stories but ill always remember them and him. I feel grateful that I knew him and blessed that he will live on through me.

Words from Aly Miller

Dear Tata,

I'm sad. My heart aches. Not only because you are no longer here or because my mom is hurting but because I've never known anyone who had a thirst for learning and seeing and experiencing more than you. I remember you telling me once that you were not afraid to die but only afraid of what you will miss in this world. Not only with Josh and I but what new things our world will create that you won't see. I'm sad for that.

I don't know why I thought this would never happen. Perhaps because you've made it through so much, or perhaps because you have lived so long. Maybe because I always thought you had a little magic in you. The way you used to take your thumb off of your hand with just your other hand or the way you used to make music by banging on the table. Both are things I continue to show people and say, "my Tata used to do this and I loved it!"

I am so beyond happy that I was able to be with you this summer. That you were able to meet and speak with mike and that you liked him and saw that I am ok. I thank you for loving me and for being proud of me. Thank you for pushing me and for supporting me with everything I do. For being so involved with my education and for being such a great dad to my mother. You gave me the strongest woman I've ever met, thank you.

You and Maka have always been there for me and have always made me want to do better and to work harder. I love you, Tata and I promise to continue to push and to go out and experience life the way you lived and the way you taught. I hope you are eating and telling your amazing stories forever.

I love you

Rabbi's commentary

In the chapel Rabbi Sherman quoted from scripture, using passages from Psalms 121 and 23 as well as  Job 1:21. He included a reading from the writings of Ben Sira about not to fear death.  In his  eulogy he quoted from Deuteronomy 16:20.

At the graveside he read from Psalm 15.  I don’t have the exact translation he cited, but, it spoke clearly to my father’s character.

Psalm 15  A psalm of David:

 Adonai, who can rest in your tent?
Who can live on your holy mountain?

Those who live a blameless life,
who behave uprightly,
who speak truth from their hearts
and keep their tongues from slander;
who never do harm to others
or seek to discredit neighbors;
who look with scorn on the vile,
but honor those who fear Adonai;
who hold to an oath, no matter the cost;
who refuse usury when they lend money
and refuse a bribe to damage the innocent.

Those who do these things
never will be moved.

A 2000 newspaper article about Joe

A 2009 article  my father wrote for a Serbian journal. His piece "Why Me, or Questions without Answers" can be found here. Note that it is a pdf file in Serbian (latin letters).

In 2011 my father wrote about "A Moment Of Decision From Ljubljana Slovenia To Trieste Italy." This was published in LAMED-E an English language publication for people from the former Yugoslavia.

In September 2012 he continued his story with From Trieste to Rome.

While in Jamaica in November he wrote, in Serbo-Croation, another chapter of his story, From Rome to Naples. However his health failed before he was able to translate and type up the narative.

An obituary was writen in Serbo-Croatian and published in a journal of the Yugoslav community in Israel:

A slightly different version was also published in "Jevrejski glas" a Jewish publication in Bosnia-Hercegovine:  We are grateful to Milan Cohen for arranging these notifications.




This web page is a tribute to Joe by his family prepared by his son, Mark. Any questions can be addressed to Mark at markgottfried@gmail.com