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Sigmund Rolat, who used his fortune to honor Polish Jews, dies at 93


Sigmund Rolat, a Polish Holocaust survivor who used his wealth from American business to support cultural projects in his homeland, most notably the creation of a museum dedicated to the history of Polish Jews inside the Warsaw Ghetto, died May 19 at his home in Alpine, N.J. He was 93.

His death was confirmed by his son Jeffrey.

Mr. Rowlatt, who believes that aside from the dark chapters of World War II, in which the Nazis committed atrocities at concentration camps such as Auschwitz and Treblinka in occupied Poland, the history of Polish Jews is a mystery to most Jews and most Americans. He donated millions of dollars to help build the interior and other parts of the building. Museum of the History of Polish Jewswhich opened in 2014, and he became its main fundraiser and an influential figure on the board.

“I hope that the first door that Jews see when they visit Poland is the door to our museum, not the door that says ‘work brings freedom.’” Mr. Rowlatt said in an interview with Forbes magazine in 2014:referring to the ironic inscription (“Labor makes you free”) that prisoners received upon entering Auschwitz.

“Jews should first learn about our shared history,” he added. “Then, of course, they should go see Auschwitz, but with a better understanding of what happened there.”

The museum’s main exhibition tells the story of Polish Jews over more than a thousand years, from the Middle Ages to the present day, through artifacts, paintings, replicas, and interactive installations.

In 2013, Mr. Rowlatt told McClatchy: “This is not another Holocaust museum, this is a living museum.”

Ewa Junczyk-Ziomecka first met Mr. Rowlatt at his Warsaw office in 2004, when she was the museum’s development director. When he learned she was not Jewish, he asked her why she wanted to get involved with the Museum of Polish Jews.

“I told him, ‘The history of Poland is incomplete without the history of Polish Jews,’ ” she recalled in a telephone interview. “‘Because I’m Polish, I’m involved.’ He was surprised and said, ‘Oh, my God, if you’re involved, how about me, a Polish Jew, standing by you?’ ”

Mr. Rowlatt used his money to support arts events in Poland, such as the Jewish Cultural Festival in Krakow and the Singer Festival in Warsaw, named after Isaac Bashevis Singer, the Polish writer and Nobel Prize winner in literature.

He also focused on his hometown of Czestochowa in southern Poland, where Jews made up a third of the population before World War II. He erected a memorial statue at the local train station (where the Nazis selected some 40,000 Jews for deportation to Treblinka) and a plaque at the slave labor camp where he and his mother were held. He also helped restore Part of the Jewish Cemetery in Czestochowa His mother and brother were executed there.

One of his most moving efforts was a concert in 2009 in an orchestral hall in Czestochowa, located on the site of the synagogue where he once worshipped and which was later destroyed by the Nazis.

At that concert, violinist Joshua Bell played the same Stradivarius that had been owned for decades by Bronislav Huberman, a performer from Czestochowa who later founded the Palestine Symphony Orchestra (now the Israel Philharmonic). The Stradivarius was made in 1713. Stolen It was taken from Mr. Huberman in 1936 and did not reappear until 1987.

Mr. Bell played Brahms’s “Violin Concerto in D Minor,” a piece that Mr. Huberman had performed as a teenager for audiences that included Brahms himself.

“The Germans burned down this synagogue in 1939,” Mr. Rowlatt said before the concert, which was captured in Haim Hecht’s film Return of the Violin (2012)“But this glorious place will always belong to us.”

He called the concert “one of the greatest moments of my life.”

Zygmunt Rozenblat was born on July 1, 1930. His father, Henryk, was an accountant. His mother, Zyska Mariana (Szydlowska) Rozenblat, took care of the household.

After Germany implemented harsh anti-Jewish laws, Zygmunt’s childhood education ended in the fourth grade. Two years later, he, his parents and his older brother Jerzyk were forced into the Czestochowa ghetto.

In 1943, Zygmunt’s parents and brother died. His father was deported to Treblinka and killed in a prisoner uprising that ended the camp’s operations. His brother, a resistance fighter, was executed along with five other partisans in the same cemetery where his mother was killed. In January 1945, the Soviet Red Army liberated the Khasag-Perseri slave-labor camp and Zygmunt was freed from it.

Zygmunt spent a short time in Poland before moving to Munich, where an aunt arranged for a German professor to tutor him six hours a day, which enabled him to pass his secondary school equivalency exams.

In 1948, he immigrated to New York City with a group of orphan refugees. With the help of a Jewish service organization, he won a scholarship to the University of Cincinnati and graduated in 1952 with a bachelor’s degree in political science. During that time, he changed his name to Sigmund Rollat.

After working for a shipping company, Mr. Rowlatt founded his own company, Skyline Shipping, in Manhattan in 1959. Three years later, he founded Oxford International, an export finance company.

“I went to Poland with him in the 1980s,” his daughter, Samantha Asulin, said in a telephone interview, “and he realized he still had some connection to the place where he was born and he saw a business opportunity.”

After the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, Rowlatt saw a photo of teenagers in jeans sitting on the ruins of the wall, which gave him an opportunity. In the early 1990s, he started a company that exported denim to Poland.

Mr. Rowlatt’s honors include the Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland, awarded by Polish President Lech Kaczynski in 2008, and the Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit of Poland, awarded by then Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski in 2013.

Mr. Rowlatt married Jacqueline Cantor in 1952, but the marriage ended in divorce. He married Ingrid Busse in 1966 and she died in 1967, and six years later, he married Jacqueline Spencer, who also died in 2013.

In addition to his son from his first marriage and his daughter, Ms. Assoulin, from his third marriage, Mr. Rowlatt has another daughter, Amanda Rowlatt, also from his third marriage, and four grandchildren. Another daughter from his first marriage, Jane Rowlatt, died in 2003.

The monument commissioned by Mr Rowlatt at the Czestochowa railway station was unveiled in 2009. Samuel WillenbergHolocaust survivor It consists of a brick wallsplit in two in a jagged pattern, with two railroad tracks on one side and a Star of David made of the same railroad tracks on the other. (2021, been destroyed With swastikas and other Nazi symbols.)

“All Jewishness has been destroyed,” Mr. Willenberg, who was born in Czestochowa, said of the destroyed wall at the unveiling. He added, according to Jewish newspapers forward“The railroad tracks symbolize the people who were packed into cattle cars and taken to Treblinka, and the red of David represents the Jews who continued to live.”

When it was Mr Rowlatt’s turn to speak, he said: “The importance of this monument can be summed up in one word: memory.”

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