Harald Pels

Obituary of Harald Pels

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Harald Pels, 94, passed away on August 3rd. He is survived by his daughter Dr. Bettina Pels-Wetzel; his two grandchildren Jonathan Wetzel and Brittney Wetzel Stewart; and three great-granddaughters Emily, Renate and Abigail. His loving wife Gisela passed in 2016. Born in 1929 to Walter Pels and Grete Katz in Hamburg, Germany, Harald's family fled to the Netherlands in the 1930s as his stepfather, the prominent attorney Fritz Cohen, was Jewish. As the realities of WWII began to impact the Netherlands, Harald was split from his family and lived on his own as an adolescent in the town of Vught while his parents and older sister, Renate, went into hiding separately. During this difficult time, young Harald aided the town's underground resistance group by speaking to guards at the local concentration camp in German, distracting them as members of the group snuck in food and clothes to aid the prisoners there. Harald dedicated himself to this work until the end of the war. Despite his interrupted formal education, Harald made a concerted effort to educate himself and seek out knowledge throughout his entire life. Harald had a knack for foreign languages, becoming self-taught and fluent in no less than five. Additionally, through his work at the Hofer Tobacco Corporation, Harald had the opportunity to travel the world, from China and Southeast Asia, to South America, the United States and points in between. Through these travels, Harald was fortunate to be exposed to cultures near and far, and grew to appreciate the differences in our world and societies. Although he was stateless following WWII, Harald was drafted and served on behalf of the United States in the Korean War. He was a member of the Marauders, and was deployed to Okinawa. As a result of his service, to a country that was new and foreign to him, Harald became a U.S. citizen - a point of pride throughout the remainder of his life. In part, it was Harald's love for languages that led to him meeting his dear Gisela in New York City. The two settled in Glen Head, Long Island where they raised their daughter Bettina. For decades they were happiest filling their life with culture, nature, and travel. A 1974 diplomatic cable reveals how Harald always left an impression. After a day of "intensive discussions" with his Chinese counterpart over the price of 170 tons of tobacco he was seeking to import, Harald, "enraged," reported to a U.S. official that he felt the Chinese were charging an unreasonably higher "American" price. He was correct about this: the report notes others had complained about the same thing. After over 50 years on Long Island, Harald and Gisela moved to be closer to their daughter. In Niskayuna, Harald's membership to the Philosophers Group, and other social activities in the community, were the highlight of his final years. Harald's life was defined by curiosity, independence, and perseverance. His hope would be for all to approach life in much the same way. In lieu of flowers, a donation can be made in Harald's honor to the Friends of Schenectady County Public Library.
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Harald Pels

In Loving Memory

Harald Pels

1929 - 2023

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