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Frank Lowy

KRAKOW TOURS: Four weeks ago he was in Poland, fighting back tears as he gave the keynote address at Auschwitz-Birkenau in homage to his father who perished at the gates of the notorious death camp in 1944. Two weeks ago he was in Hungary, where his father disappeared, watching the grand final of Australia’s premier soccer league on his laptop.

Birkenau Rail Car

Though seemingly unrelated, these two events are bittersweet bookends in the colossus life of Australia’s Frank Lowy.

Faith and soccer – two code words to unlock the heart of the 82-year-old co-founder of the Westfield shopping mall empire and chairman of Football Federation Australia.

His rags-to-riches fairytale has amassed a $5.3 billion fortune, according to Forbes magazine, after arriving in Australia in 1952 virtually penniless having surviving the Holocaust on the run before fighting in Israel’s War of Independence.

But his business instinct has not compromised his Jewish faith or his faith in soccer – both of which he learned from his father Hugo.

On Holocaust Remembrance Day Lowy told more than 10,000 people – including his wife, sons and one granddaughter – how his father had been beaten to death upon arrival in a cattle wagon because he refused to sacrifice his tallit (prayer shawl) and tefillin (phylacteries).

“I never realized that he had strength – the spiritual strength – to take on the brutal guards here in Birkenau. No matter how hard they hit him, he protected the sanctity of his tallit and tefillin,” Lowy said, his voice cracking.

“They could break his body but they could not break his spirit. The tallit and tefillin were part of him, part of his personal relationship with God, and he was ready to die for them. And he did.”

At Auschwitz lies a cattle wagon used by the Nazis and restored by the Lowy family, dedicated to the memory of Hungarian Jews who perished there.

In 2009, at a private ceremony, Lowy placed a blue prayer bag inside the wagon as a symbol of his and his father’s faith. It brought to a close a 50-year search to discover his father’s fate that ended in 1991 when one of his sons had a chance encounter with an unrelated American man called Myer Lowy who had witnessed Hugo’s death.

“This has really, in a sense, defined his entire life,” Lowy’s rabbi, Levi Wolff, told Haaretz this week. “He’s been able to now appreciate the Yiddishkeit that his father lived for and died for.

May 9, 2013 Posted by | Auschwitz | , , , | Leave a comment

   

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