Felix Yochanan Yokel, 83, a Bethesda resident who fled Nazi Germany as a youngster, fought with an elite unit of the Israeli Army and built a new life for himself in the United States as a structural engineer, died Nov. 27 at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore of complications from leukemia.
Mr. Yokel was born in Vienna, Austria, and grew up in Laa an der Thaya, a small, predominantly Catholic town near the Czech-Austrian border. When the Nazis marched into Austria, his parents managed to send him to Palestine with Youth Aliyah, an organization founded in 1933 to save Jewish children from Nazi Germany and Austria. He arrived in 1939 and became a founding member of Kibbutz Kfar Blum, on the River Jordan in upper Galilee.
He served as an officer in the Palmach, the fighting forces of the Yishuv (Jewish settlement) in Palestine before the state of Israel was established. The British military and the Jewish underground organized the Palmach in 1941 to help the British protect Palestine from the Nazi threat. As a member of the elite strike force, Mr. Yokel assisted in the rescue of Holocaust refugees.
The British ordered the dismantling of the Palmach in 1942. Instead, the organization went underground, carried out attacks against British infrastructure and played a major role in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Along with Moshe Dayan, Yigal Allon, Yitzhak Rabin and other Palmachniks, Mr. Yokel is honored in Israel as a war hero.
In 1956, at age 34, Mr. Yokel and his wife and two young children immigrated to the United States. He enrolled at the University of Connecticut, worked as a land surveyor to support his family and received his doctorate in engineering in 1962. He worked for several years as a partner in a large engineering firm in Albany, N.Y., before moving to Bethesda in 1969 to take a position as a research engineer with the National Bureau of Standards.
As a civil and structural engineer, he was an expert in soil mechanics. He traveled the world doing research on the development of standards for earthquake- and hurricane-resistant structures. In 1985, he was part of the engineering team that recommended razing the newly constructed U.S. Embassy in Moscow because the structure was riddled with KGB listening devices.
He also published numerous scholarly works and received commendations from the U.S. government for his accomplishments. He retired in 1993 but continued working as a consultant for government agencies and private firms.
Mr. Yokel was an ardent nature lover and bird watcher and supported several environmental organizations, including CROW (Care and Resuscitation of Wildlife), Defenders of Wildlife, the National Audubon Society, the International Wolf Center in Minnesota, Friends of Nature in Israel and Greenpeace.
He and his wife traveled the world and enjoyed bird-watching, hiking and camping. They spent a part of each winter on Sanibel Island, Fla.
A founding member of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, he returned last summer to the Austrian town where he grew up to fund and dedicate a memorial in remembrance of Jewish Holocaust victims from Laa an der Thaya. His son, an architect, built the memorial.
Survivors include his wife of 59 years, Susanne Martha Yokel of Bethesda; three children, Uri Yokel of Greenbelt, Yael Yokel Ellis of Clearwater, Fla., and Ben Yokel of Cotton, Minn.; nine grandchildren; and one great-grandson.