Sami Rohr, Philanthropist Who 'Invested' Millions in the Jewish People

Appreciation

No Edifice Complex: Sami Rohr was a humble person, who did not want to have buildings named after him. He hoped to spend his money supporting the Jewish people around the world.
No Edifice Complex: Sami Rohr was a humble person, who did not want to have buildings named after him. He hoped to spend his money supporting the Jewish people around the world.

By Ezra Glinter

Published August 09, 2012, issue of August 17, 2012.
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Rohr was born in 1926 in Berlin, where his father, Oskar Rohr, was what he once described as one of the city’s “leading real estate men.” In 1938 the family left Germany, 13 days after Kristallnacht, finding refuge first in Antwerp, Belgium, and then in Lyon, France, before fleeing to Switzerland in 1943. When Rohr’s parents were taken to a refugee camp in Morgins, he was sent to a children’s home near Basel, from which he was taken and cared for by Shlomo Zalman and Recha Feldinger. In April of this year, Rohr made an emotional return to Basel, where he dedicated a new synagogue in the Feldingers’ memory.

After moving to Paris with his family following the war, Rohr left in 1950 for Colombia, where his aunt was then living. There he became a real estate magnate, almost single-handedly developing the west side of the city. In 1953 he married Charlotte Kastner, a survivor of Auschwitz who had immigrated to Chile and with whom he had a son, George, and daughters Evelyn and Lillian. Charlotte Rohr passed away in 2007.

“The Rohrs were embracing, warm, charming and really worldly people with a tremendous sense of Yiddishkeit and of doing good,” remembered Danièle Gorlin Lassner, a former dean of admissions and head of the foreign languages department at The Ramaz School in Manhattan. In the 1960s and ’70s, Lassner and her husband, Jules Lassner, lived in Bogotá. There she first met Charlotte Rohr at the city’s kosher butcher shop. When Lassner started a Hebrew school in the city, the Rohrs were among her first supporters, and their children her first students.

The family left Colombia in 1981 because of rising crime and settled in Bal Harbour, Fla., where they became a fixture of the local Jewish community and helped establish a synagogue. While still in Bogotá they had been active in efforts to bring a Lubavitch emissary to the city, and in the United States they continued their support for the Hasidic movement, which is known for its outposts all over the globe.

“They took their real estate money and said, ‘We don’t need buildings, but we’d like to be responsible for someone who has an influence in resurrecting Jewry,’” Heilman said. “I think Chabad meant that to them.”

“He knew how to invest and what impressed him about Chabad is that he knew he was getting his money’s worth,” added Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, a senior Chabad rabbi and vice-chairman of the movement’s educational arm, Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch. “When he sent [an emissary out] he knew that the person was going to be there for life.”


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