Joseph Wilf, Holocaust survivor and father of Vikings owners, passes away at 91

- The Minnesota Vikings have announced the passing of Joseph Wilf, a Holocaust survivor and the father of Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf. Joseph Wilf was 91.

Born in Poland in 1925, Wilf married another Holocaust survivor, Suzie, in 1949. The family immigrated to the United States in 1950, where Joseph built a prominent real estate business with his brother, Harry.

“It’s incredibly inspiring to think about what Joseph Wilf overcame through tremendous courage,” Vikings Chief Operating Officer Kevin Warren said in a statement. “He became a visionary leader in business who had in his heart a love for helping others. Joseph passed along to his sons, Zygi and Mark, the importance of family values, including through the enjoyment of New York Giants football games at Yankee Stadium. Those special moments inspired Zygi and Mark to become owners of the Vikings and have shaped their stewardship of this franchise.”

Joseph Wilf obituary

Joseph Wilf passed away August 3, 2016 peacefully at his home with his family at his side. Joseph was born January 10, 1925 in Jaroslaw, Poland. When World War II broke out, Joseph, his brother Harry, together with their parents, Oscar and Ella Wilf, were deported by the Russians from their home in Jaroslaw to a Siberian labor camp. All survived, except for his sister Bella who perished in the Warsaw Ghetto. The end of the war found them physically and mentally exhausted. While the Wilfs were determined to return to Jaroslaw following the liberation, the pogroms which erupted in Poland in 1946 caused them to flee to the American occupied zone of Germany where Joseph met his future wife, Elizabeth Fisch (known as Suzie).

The Wilfs married in 1949, and immigrated to the United States in 1950. In 1954 Joseph and his brother Harry founded Garden Homes, a real estate development company based in New Jersey. Garden Homes is now one of the largest real estate companies in the United States and in Israel building thousands of homes, offices, stores, and hotels over the past 62 years.

Paralleling his achievements in business is involvement in philanthropic causes particularly in efforts to enhance the lives of the Jewish people both in the United States and Israel. He and his brother Harry established the Wilf Family Foundation in 1964. Joseph Wilf was a well-respected leader, benefactor, and board member in countless organizations. He, along with his brother Harry, was a benefactor and board member of the Wilf campus of Yeshiva University. He was among the original founders of the American Society for Yad Vashem and a lead donor to their Holocaust museum building. Joseph also served as President of Jewish Federation of Central NJ and Board Chair of the JEC in Elizabeth, NJ. He was a board member and longtime benefactor of United Jewish Appeal, Israel Bonds, Jewish Family Service, Jewish Community Center, YMHA, the Jewish Museum, Park East Synagogue, Jewish Agency for Israel, the Joint Distribution Committee, and the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany. Joseph also was a long-time trustee of Kean University, U.S. Holocaust Museum founder, United Way benefactor, and involved with numerous other philanthropic efforts.

Joseph Wilf’s many honors and awards include the Louis Brandeis Humanitarian Award of the Zionist Organization of America, the David Ben Gurion Peace medal of the Israel Bond Organization, and honorary degrees from Yeshiva University, Kean University, and the Rabbinical College of America.

Despite discrimination and the horrors of the Holocaust, Joseph’s life and that of his extended family stand as eloquent testimony to the heroism and tenacity of the Jewish people. An ardent Zionist and a builder in the state of Israel, he was also an irreplaceable gentle giant of his generation. He was a revered and respected communal leader, as well as a personal mentor and advisor to many dear family, friends, and associates. He was ever humble, graceful, and dignified and will be missed dearly by his family, friends, and countless other institutions and individuals that benefited from his sage advice, vision, leadership, generosity and wisdom. He was also ever grateful of American ideals and what America did for him and his family. He also loved travel, skiing, and attending sporting events especially football.

To Joseph, even with all his achievements, his proudest legacy and accomplishment was his family. Joseph is, survived by his wife Elizabeth (Suzie) of 67 years, sons Zygi and Mark, daughters-in-law Audrey and Jane, and his nine grandchildren and five great grandchildren. He is predeceased by his son Sidney.

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