The legacy of Roman Blum
Roman Blum died a few weeks ago. He was 92, and he wasn’t well. He died a very rich man. According to estimates from his accountant and lawyer, somewhere in the area of 40 million dollars. A nice area. Roman Blum left no family. His wife died a few years ago.
Roman Blum was a Holocaust survivor. He said he was from Warsaw, but the few records found about his early life say he was from Chelm. Those of you who know Yiddish folk tales will appreciate why Roman Blum did not want to be known as someone from Chelm.
According to what records are available, he lost a wife and daughter at Auschwitz. Probably his parents as well. But, Roman Blum survived. After Auschwitz was liberated, he found himself in a displaced persons camp—those sad and horrific places where those who had lost everything were thrown until they could “relocate.”
There he met a woman who also had survived. In the confusion of the camp and the uncertainty of what had passed and what was about to happen, Roman Blum became convinced that this woman and he were the only Jews left on earth—that through some horrible but miraculous circumstance, they had found each other.
Roman Blum felt convinced it was their obligation to re-start the Jewish People. While there was no real love, these two survivors with no other family left, married. It is ironic then that they had no children.
Through luck and perseverance, they came to the United States and settled in New York in a community of other Holocaust survivors. There, Roman Blum built a new life among people he originally thought no longer existed.
As I wrote above, the irony of their marriage to re-start the Jewish People produced no progeny. Nor, to the best of anyone’s knowledge was there anyone left from either of their families in Europe.
So, Roman Blum began to build a business. He did something he was not allowed to do in Poland before the war. He bought property. He developed property. He was, according to those of his friends who remain, charming, outgoing, a “lady’s man” and fun to be with.
As the business prospered, Roman Blum kept buying, selling and developing. The stacks on his desk grew higher according to those who visited his office. Roman Blum was all business during the day and a good friend to all in the evening.
One wonders why, such a man, whose first thoughts after the horror of Auschwitz was to re-populate the Jewish world never gave a serious thought to that world after he would leave it. But, apparently he did not.
As Roman Blum grew older his lawyer, a fellow survivor, kept asking him to make a will, to do something with his wealth. No family. No favorite cause or charity. Just friends and the business. Roman Blum’s wife was dead. Roman Blum was old. His lawyer and friend pleaded with him to do something.
The last time his lawyer met with him he asked again for Roman Blum to take the time to think about his legacy, his money. The lawyer was headed for vacation. He recalls Roman Blum saying to him “when you come back, we’ll get it done.”
The lawyer left for vacation and Roman Blum died. The house was sold, the paintings and furniture and tchotchke’s all went. The money and the properties and the things that were left all were carefully accounted for. A genealogist was hired to see if the Nazis left any trace of family in Europe. The estate waited. Nothing.
Now? This was a man who felt after surviving the worse hell on earth ever perpetrated on the Jews that it was his personal duty to bring back the Jewish People from extinction. Now, everything he coveted, everything he accomplished is to be given to the State of New York. Ask your lawyer. That’s the law when you have no will. What would Roman Blum do if he had made it another month or two? We will never know.
What we do know is that rather than being used in some bureaucratic way to shore up some unknown and probably questionable policy, the legacy of Roman Blum could have been a reservoir holding precious water in the Negev. It could have been a scholarship program for worthy Jewish kids studying ways to make life better in the world. It could have been—well, so many things. But this is not to be.
If there is a heaven and if Roman Blum is there with his family and those who knew him, what would he say? What question would he answer? “Roman, so you did good, nu? So what did you leave behind, Roman, for those Jews you felt were no longer alive? Tell us Roman Blum, what did you do?”