“He was very interested in different cultures and people of all stripes,” said Alice Tetelman, his wife of 40 years. “He felt he was able to do some good in the world, and he was proud of representing the United States.”
Wenick died May 7 at age 80 of covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, his wife said. At the shiva held via Zoom for Wenick, more than 200 friends and former colleagues from around the world took part, Tetelman said in a phone interview from the couple’s home in the District’s Cathedral Heights neighborhood.
Some recalled his work on behalf of Jewish refuseniks in the Soviet Union, who were barred from emigrating. Others remembered him as a friend to dissidents in Prague. Many Italians also joined the virtual service, some who knew him from his posting in Rome and others from the successful Italian villa rental business that he formed with Tetelman years after retiring from the State Department. The callers shared tales of Wenick’s dry wit and warmth, his genuineness and kind spirit, and his care and concern for others.
The world lost “a mensch,” said his longtime friend Danny Grossman of San Francisco, whom Wenick mentored at the State Department in 1979. The older Foreign Service professional took Grossman, then an intern, under his wing — listening, sharing advice and occasionally playing friendly games of squash.
“I miss him a lot already,” Grossman said. “For many people, the tragedy of covid remains somewhat impersonal, but for me, this really drove home the personal loss that so many people are feeling.”
Wenick, who was born in Jersey City, N.J., joined the Foreign Service in 1962 after graduating from Brown University. An Eastern European expert whose career spanned much of the Cold War, Wenick remained with the State Department until his retirement in 1989. After leaving public service, he pursued his commitment to international issues. He served as executive director of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry from 1989 to 1992 before joining HIAS, an international Jewish nonprofit agency that assists refugees. He was executive director there until his retirement in 1998.
“Marty was a passionate defender of human rights and an effective diplomat, leading with his authenticity and wit to transform HIAS to effectively advocate for refugees and new Americans of all faiths and ethnicities,” the agency said in a statement posted on a memorial page.
Tetelman, who met Wenick in 1979 when she was working as chief of staff for a New York congressman and married him a year later, remembered her husband as “brilliant, kind and always a gentleman.”
“He also had a terrific sense of humor,” she said. “He was just a really nice guy.”