Moshe and Soshana Atlas and their five children left Warsaw, Poland, in 1920, during the Russian revolution, to join relatives in Palestine. In the early 1930s, their sons Noah and Ralph both traveled to Pittsburgh to attend the Carnegie Institute of Technology.
At Carnegie Tech, Ralph Atlas (1908-1998) was a member of the Tau Delta Phi fraternity and a prominent athlete. The 125-pound featherweight earned the nickname “The Tel-Aviv Terror” for his boxing prowess. “Minus the cleverness of most of his rivals, he showed tremendous punching power which soon had team mates growing wary of his flying fists,” Jack Sell of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote in a January 1931 article. Atlas was later inducted into the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame of Western Pennsylvania.
After earning a degree in mechanical engineering, Ralph Atlas returned to Palestine where he trained Jewish soldiers in weapons use and translated military training manuals for the underground defense organization Haganah. During World War II, he was a commissioned officer for the British Army of the Middle East and fought in the Syrian and North African campaigns. At the end of the war, assigned to the British Military Mission in Washington, D.C., he worked on a global inventory of Lend-Lease equipment.
Atlas then settled in Pittsburgh. In a speech he gave upon becoming a U.S. citizen in 1950, Atlas said he and his fellow immigrants had come from different countries and different backgrounds, but shared a common future: “Now we cheer Ralph Kiner and boo the Dodgers; we listen to Jack Benny or, according to preference, to the New York Philharmonic; we get involved in an argument about the merits of the ‘T’ formation or the relative chances of the major political parties in the forthcoming elections. In short, we feel very much at home.”
He worked as an executive for Apollo Steel and later for Green Engineering International. After retiring in 1976, he enrolled in a Russian philology program at the University of Pittsburgh. When he graduated in 1984, Atlas became the oldest person in university history to earn a master’s degree.
Atlas married Gertrude Lowenstein of Pittsburgh in 1937. After she died in 1957, he married Paula Skirble (d. 2009), who worked for the Three Rivers Arts Festival for many years.