Home » W. Feibelman: Astronomer and Holocaust Survivor

W. Feibelman: Astronomer and Holocaust Survivor

Feibelman Astronomer Holocaust Survivor
Walter Alexander Feibelman, 79, an astronomer who discovered the E-ring of Saturn, died of a heart attack 19 November 2004 at his home at Riderwood Village in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Walter Feibelman was born on October 30, 1925, in Berlin, Germany, to Bernard and Dora Feibelman. In 1941, he immigrated to the United States with his parents, among the final wave of German Jews escaping Nazi Germany. Feibelman Astronomer Holocaust Survivor

During his youth, Walter worked various jobs including at a cleaning shop and as a soda jerk before pursuing training in tool and die making. He then joined Abbey Photo Corp. in New York and later a model-making firm, where he crafted aircraft models used for Army Air Forces identification courses.

Groundbreaking Discovery Feibelman Astronomer Holocaust Survivor

After graduating from high school, he attended the Carnegie Institute of Technology, earning his BS degree in 1956. From 1969 until his retirement in 2002, he served as a research scientist at the University of Pittsburgh. Notably, while working there as an assistant research professor in physics and astronomy, Walter made a groundbreaking discovery in 1967. By analyzing a photo of Saturn taken a year earlier at the Allegheny Observatory, he identified the faint E-ring, a finding that remained unconfirmed until Pioneer 11’s flyby in 1979.


Transitioning to the Goddard Space Flight Center’s Optical Astronomy Division in 1969, Walter dedicated over three decades to NASA. He contributed significantly to the International Ultraviolet Explorer project, focusing on developing detectors for the orbiting observatory’s spectrograph, which operated successfully from 1978 to 1996.

Throughout his scientific career, Walter authored over 200 peer-reviewed articles covering topics such as hot stars, planetary nebulae, photography, spectroscopy, physics, telescopes, and railroading. His contributions were recognized with several awards, including a special achievement award from NASA in 1986 and a Presidential Certificate of Recognition on National Immigrants Day in 1987. Feibelman Astronomer Holocaust Survivor

His Passion – Steam Locomotives

Beyond his scientific endeavors, Walter had a passion for steam locomotives. He documented the end of the steam era in western Pennsylvania through photographs and authored the book “Rails to Pittsburgh” in 1979. Notably, he meticulously crafted a 31-inch model of a “Niagara” locomotive from brass, based on shop blueprints purchased from the New York Central Railroad.

In addition to his professional pursuits, Walter cherished classical music and curated an extensive collection of performance videos, which he shared in well-attended weekly gatherings. He continued this tradition until shortly before his passing, having presented his 200th program the night before his death.

Relatives Feibelman Astronomer Holocaust Survivor

His sister, Miriam Yogev, settled in Jerusalem. Walter’s aunt and uncle, Addi and Otto Feibelmann were deported to Łódź in 1941 and perished. His aunt Emma Feibelman Klein was deported to Majdanek in 1942 and perished.

The Documents

Sometimes you wonder what the United States would be today without all the brilliant German scientists they recruited after the war. NASA’s space program would be very different without the knowledge of the V2 rocket engines and Wernher von Braun, who was not only the head of NASA for ten years but also the NASA idea came from him already in 1954. NASA was founded in 1958. Von Braun became the center’s first director on 1 July 1960 and held the position until 27 January 1970. Feibelman Astronomer Holocaust Survivor

A little Girl and a Diplomat in Wartime Hungary 1944

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1. What are the earliest known examples of passports, and how have they evolved?

The word "passport" came up only in the mid 15th Century. Before that, such documents were safe conducts, recommendations or protection letters. On a practical aspect, the earliest passport I have seen was from the mid 16th Century. Read more...

2. Are there any notable historical figures or personalities whose passports are highly sought after by collectors?

Every collector is doing well to define his collection focus, and yes, there are collectors looking for Celebrity passports and travel documents of historical figures like Winston Churchill, Brothers Grimm, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Read more...

3. How did passport designs and security features change throughout different periods in history, and what impact did these changes have on forgery prevention?

"Passports" before the 18th Century had a pure functional character. Security features were, in the best case, a watermark and a wax seal. Forgery, back then, was not an issue like it is nowadays. Only from the 1980s on, security features became a thing. A state-of-the-art passport nowadays has dozens of security features - visible and invisible. Some are known only by the security document printer itself. Read more...

4. What are some of the rarest and most valuable historical passports that have ever been sold or auctioned?

Lou Gehrig, Victor Tsoi, Marilyn Monroe, James Joyce, and Albert Einstein when it comes to the most expensive ones. Read more...

5. How do diplomatic passports differ from regular passports, and what makes them significant to collectors?

Such documents were often held by officials in high ranks, like ambassadors, consuls or special envoys. Furthermore, these travel documents are often frequently traveled. Hence, they hold a tapestry of stamps or visas. Partly from unusual places.

6. Can you provide insights into the stories behind specific historical passports that offer unique insights into past travel and migration trends?

A passport tells the story of its bearer and these stories can be everything - surprising, sad, vivid. Isabella Bird and her travels (1831-1904) or Mary Kingsley, a fearless Lady explorer.

7. What role did passports play during significant historical events, such as wartime travel restrictions or international treaties?

During war, a passport could have been a matter of life or death. Especially, when we are looking into WWII and the Holocaust. And yes, during that time, passports and similar documents were often forged to escape and save lives. Example...

8. How has the emergence of digital passports and biometric identification impacted the world of passport collecting?

Current modern passports having now often a sparkling, flashy design. This has mainly two reasons. 1. Improved security and 2. Displaying a countries' heritage, icons, and important figures or achievements. I can fully understand that those modern documents are wanted, especially by younger collectors.

9. Are there any specialized collections of passports, such as those from a specific country, era, or distinguished individuals?

Yes, the University of Western Sidney Library has e.g. a passport collection of the former prime minister Hon Edward Gough Whitlam and his wife Margaret. They are all diplomatic passports and I had the pleasure to apprise them. I hold e.g. a collection of almost all types of the German Empire passports (only 2 types are still missing). Also, my East German passport collection is quite extensive with pretty rare passport types.

10. Where can passport collectors find reliable resources and reputable sellers to expand their collection and learn more about passport history?

A good start is eBay, Delcampe, flea markets, garage or estate sales. The more significant travel documents you probably find at the classic auction houses. Sometimes I also offer documents from my archive/collection. See offers... As you are already here, you surely found a great source on the topic 😉

Other great sources are: Scottish Passports, The Nansen passport, The secret lives of diplomatic couriers

11. Is vintage passport collecting legal? What are the regulations and considerations collectors should know when acquiring historical passports?

First, it's important to stress that each country has its own laws when it comes to passports. Collecting old vintage passports for historical or educational reasons is safe and legal, or at least tolerated. More details on the legal aspects are here...

Does this article spark your curiosity about passport collecting and the history of passports? With this valuable information, you have a good basis to start your own passport collection.

Question? Contact me...