Pera Poswianksi was born in Wilno, Poland (present-day Vilnius, Lithuania). Her family owned a textile manufacturing business and were part of the vibrant Jewish community in the city.
She and Izaak were survivors of the Holocaust. Most of their families died following Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939. Both Pera and Izaak lost their spouses but met again after the war and married, with Izaak adopting Pera’s daughter Marina.
“She utilized her resourcefulness, courage and intelligence to survive the Holocaust. Her grace and guidance influenced countless students,” Marina Tatar said.
Together, they made their way to Paris, where Wirszup worked before being invited to join Chicago's math department in 1949.
“It is amazing that Izaak and Pera, after all that they endured during the second World War, could be such magnificent examples of kindness and generosity,” said Robert Fefferman, the Max Mason Distinguished Service Professor in Mathematics.
“Through a most remarkable collaboration, they greatly improved the quality of life on our campus for generations of students and colleagues alike,” he added.
Pera Wirszup found a job with Peck & Peck, a women’s clothing store, and eventually rose to a management position and was invited to speak about her success at a national convention held in New York.
After leaving Peck & Peck, she joined the Slavic Languages and Literatures department at UChicago in 1980 as a lecturer in conversational Russian, one of six languages she spoke. She introduced the students to the classics of Russian literature. She continued teaching Russian until 1992.
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