When Dr. Howard Schlossman died in September, he was one month shy of his 105th birthday.
He was remarkable for far more than the length of his life.
He was at Buchenwald with the U.S. Army right after it was liberated; he was awarded the French Legion of Honor as well as the Bronze Star for his heroism during World War II. He was a pioneering psychoanalyst. He was a philanthropist, an open-minded and enthusiastic world traveler, and an avid practitioner of the almost lost art of stamp collection.
He was a widower, and also a beloved father and grandfather.
Dr. Schlossman, who was born in 1915, grew up in Brownsville, Brooklyn; his parents, Sadie and Joseph, immigrants from the Ukraine, met and married in America. Yiddish was his first language. His father was a peddler; he was smart and with an instinct for business and languages, so he picked up some of the many spoken around him.
Dr. Schlossman’s parents did not have the opportunity to get much of an education, but he went to college, and then on to medical school. American medical schools in general were not particularly welcoming to Jews, but often Jesuit institutions were more open. Dr. Schlossman found that to be true; he went to St. Louis University. “He didn’t care where he went, or that it was so far away from home,” his daughter, Doralynn Pines, said. “He was just happy to get into medical school in America.” He told a story, however, that he’d gotten a call saying he’d been admitted at the last minute. “He said that he’d been told, ‘One of our Jews isn’t coming. Do you want to come?’” He also told his daughter that his response to that call was not “‘What a terrible thing to say to me!’ You just say ‘I’ll be there.’
“My father stood up for himself, but he didn’t fight battles all the time.” It was worth it for him to get what he wanted and where he wanted to be, she said.
When her father graduated in 1940, it was, as Ms. Pines quoted him as saying, “with a medical degree in one hand and a commission in the other.” (The military draft was instituted that year.) He became a medical officer, was sent first to Panama, “guarding the canal, and he disliked it so much that he was glad to go overseas,” his daughter said. He was shipped to England and crossed the English Channel and entered Europe the month after D Day. He was a doctor in a tank battalion, “and they went all the way from France into Germany,” Ms. Pines said.
He did not give many details about what he saw at Buchenwald, Ms. Pines said. “He just talked about how awful it was.” But it had profound effects on his life. “He went into the war thinking that he’d be an ob/gyn, and he came out having decided to be a psychiatrist. He’d treated men for what probably was no longer called shell shock but was not yet called PTSD.
“So he became not just a psychiatrist, but a Freudian analyst.” He trained at the New York Psychoanalytic Institute, one of the most intensely Freudian centers there was.
Dr. Schlossman married Sylvia in 1946; the family moved to Teaneck, where Ms. Pines was born in 1947. They stayed there for seven years — that was before the town was as Jewish as it is now — and the moved to Tenafly, where she and her brother grew up and went to high school. In 1972, with their children out of the house, Harold and Sylvia moved to Fort Lee.
Her father practiced in Manhattan at first — “he commuted into the city, but one day there was just one snowstorm too many — so he moved his practice to Englewood. “He specialized in adolescents,” Ms. Pines said. “A lot of my parents’ friends also were analysts, and their children were pretty difficult.
“He was a wonderful father. He would really sit and talk to you. If you were upset about something, he’d listen to you. He didn’t analyze — he knew how to listen.”
Dr. Schlossman “was a very very serious stamp collector,” Ms. Pines said. “He focused on 19th century American. He had a lot of different kind of stamps. What’s amazing to me was that I used to think that stamps were very boring, but I don’t any more.” Ms. Pines is an art historian who worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a passion that she believes was nurtured by the many trips to Europe she took with her parents, before such trips were common.
“At one point he had the stamps out and I looked at them and I thought, ‘Oh my God! These are little engravings!’ Before them I’d just thought they were just stamps.
“We used to describe my father has someone who knew everything about everything, particularly history. I think he learned it from the stamps — where they were from and what they were depicting.” But not everyone would have learned as much as he did from those little pieces of gummed paper, she added. “He was the kind of person who when you asked him what time it was would tell you how watches are made.”
Ms. Pines’ mother died in 2010. Harold and Sylvia had traveled together until she became too ill and the trips stopped. “Two days after she died, my father and I were having lunch together,” Ms. Pines said. “I started talking about the next trip I was taking, and he said, ‘Can I go with you?’” So for much of the last decade of his life, father and daughter went around the world together.
Devra Karger is the director of principal gifts at the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey. She was close to Dr. Schlossman in his last years; she first met him when the federation honored him when he turned 90 — he was the area’s oldest living practicing doctor at the time. He was honored again at 100.
He’d talk about the war, she said; he told her about the time that a mortar shell exploded terrifyingly close to him, and about his choice of psychiatry came out of his experience of, as he put it, mothering the soldiers. “He was so wonderful!” she said. “He practiced until he was in his late 90s, and then he said, ‘Who will hire an old man like me?’ so he retired.”
“He was an agnostic, but he had such a Jewish soul,” she continued. “He always said that needed to give back.” He gave to the federation because, she said, “he felt that it was his obligation as a Jew to help other Jews.” One of the federation programs to which he felt most personally connected wit Café Europa, which works with Holocaust survivors “who were his age or younger,” Ms. Karger said.
He celebrated his 100th birthday with another gift to federation, while he was at a dinner in his honor. “We asked him about longevity,” Ms. Karger said. “He said that it was just the luck of the draw.”
He was independent; he’s go into Manhattan to shop or see theater on his own well into his 90s, Ms. Karger said. “He was larger than life.”
Dr. Howard Schlossman is survived by his daughter, Doralynn Schlossman Pines; his son, Paul Schlossman; his son-in-law, Jeffrey Pines; and two granddaughters, Giulia and Abigail.