Shoah Survivor Funds Professorship in Holocaust Studies at Queens College

By Caroline Lagnado

Published January 19, 2007, issue of January 19, 2007.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Queens College, part of the City University of New York, recently announced the endowment of a professorship focusing on Holocaust studies. And the man responsible for funding the position, 93-year-old William Ungar, knows about the Holocaust firsthand. Ungar, who grew up in Poland, survived a concentration camp but lost much of his family, including his first wife and son, to the Nazis.

If his story started as a tragedy, however, Ungar quickly turned it into a triumph. He arrived in New York City in 1946 on the first boatload of displaced persons to reach America, without a penny to his name. But he learned English, graduated from CUNY with a degree in mechanical engineering, and started one of the country’s most successful envelope-production businesses, now known as the National Envelope Corporation. The penniless Ungar became a successful, wealthy man.

Ungar has also become a prominent philanthropist, supporting causes in Israel, Jewish education — particularly Solomon Schechter schools — and Holocaust awareness. Ungar has also steadily donated to Queens College, which his second wife, Jerry, attended. The school’s department of Jewish studies has received much of Ungar’s funding, including the new professorship in Holocaust studies, which Ungar announced last summer.

“I feel it’s very important for future generations to be educated,” Ungar recently told the Forward. “Such genocide should never occur again in a future generation.” Queens College president James Muyskens told the Forward that Ungar “is really someone who cares about education,” adding that he “couldn’t be happier” about the philanthropist’s involvement with the school.

The department is led by Mark Rosenblum and William Helmreich, who have made fund-raising a priority. Before their arrival less than a year ago, Helmreich estimates, the largest contribution to Jewish studies was around $60,000; since their arrival, the department has raised nearly $1 million. The two are still actively pursuing additional funding, however, since it’s unusual for public schools to receive sizable donations. That’s why Ungar’s generosity has been such a boon to the department. “This means a great deal to a college like Queens College. Usually things like this happen to schools like New York University or the Ivies,” said Helmreich, who met Ungar while writing “Against All Odds: Holocaust Survivors and the Successful Lives They Made in America,” a Simon & Schuster book that Ungar had funded.

Besides Ungar’s endowment, Queens College’s Jewish-studies department has recently seen two other major contributions: Queensboro Hill Jewish Center has donated $100,000, and Pearl and Nathan Halegua, two Queens College graduates living on Long Island, have pledged funding for a scholar focusing on Jewish ethics. As Helmreich noted, “Queens [College] is on the move, we’re doing things that have never done before.”

The search for a professor to fill the Holocaust-studies post will begin next semester. Rosenblum is sensitive to the fact that the last generation of Holocaust survivors won’t be around for much longer, calling it “twilight time with survivors.” He was quick to note the importance of Ungar’s gift in light of the recent conference of Holocaust deniers in Iran, saying that it “comes at a time when there seems to be a sense of peril in the world—a sense of antisemitism, and a clear threat to the Jews, this rhetoric of suggesting the Holocaust didn’t exist.”

Ungar, too, sees echoes of Nazi Germany in present-day Iran, saying it is “almost a repeat of the ’30s,” and noting: “We can compare the president of Iran to Hitler for trying to spread lies.” Still, Ungar is quick to keep things in context, adding, “From the perspective of Jewish history, it’s not so unusual to have such enemies — we will persevere.”

Arthur Anderman, a real-estate attorney and lay leader within the Jewish-studies program, told the Forward that “as a public institution, Queens College doesn’t always get funding for professorships.” Anderman hopes that the new professor will “come in as a star.”

Ungar continues to be a star in his own right. His list of awards is lengthy — he received the Ellis Island Medal of Honor and was named National Entrepreneur of the Year in 1996, to name a couple — and his business continues to thrive. He has chronicled his own story in two autobiographies: “Destined to Live” and his latest, “Only in America: From Holocaust to National Industry Leadership.” Appropriate texts, perhaps, for an upcoming syllabus at Queens College.






Find us on Facebook!
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.