Edited by: Fern Sidman
The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous reported the death on Friday of its longtime president, Roman Kent, who passed away at his home in New York City. He was 96 years old.
A Holocaust survivor, who survived the Lodz ghetto; and the Auschwitz, Mertzbachtal, Dornau, and Flossenburg concentration camps; and a death march, Kent devoted his life to ensuring that both aged and needy non-Jews, who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust, and Holocaust survivors themselves, were cared for in their later years.
Kent served on the board of the JFR for more than 25 years. He also served as the treasurer of the Conference on Material Claims Against Germany and was appointed by President Obama to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Council.
“Roman was a man of compassion, principle, and caring. Roman’s kindness and generosity will be greatly missed,” said JFR Chairman Harvey Schulweis. “There are thousands of men and women whose lives have been made better because of Roman, yet because he was such a humble man, they might not have known who he was. The loss will be felt deeply by the Righteous Gentiles whose deeds during the Holocaust he championed for years.”
“Roman never sought credit for his good deeds; he never boasted to others of his generosity and his work on their behalf. He had a keen sense of the responsibility we have to our fellow man, our responsibility as Americans, as Jews, and simply as human beings in a world that can be harsh, cruel, and intolerant of our differences,” Schulweis added.
As a Holocaust survivor, Kent was dedicated and committed to the continuity of the Jewish people, the survival of Israel and to passing on the lessons to be learned from the Holocaust. He spent countless hours lecturing to students, teachers and adults across the United States, ensuring that the Holocaust was not forgotten.
Born in Lodz, Poland, Roman survived the Lodz ghetto and several concentration camps, including Auschwitz. Roman’s father died of malnutrition in the Lodz ghetto and his mother was murdered in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Roman and his brother Leon were liberated by the U.S. army in 1945 while on a death march to Dachau. The brothers were reunited with their two sisters, Dasza and Renia in Sweden after liberation, but sadly, Dasza was very ill and died a few months later.
In June 1946, Roman and Leon immigrated to the United States as part of a government program to admit 5,000 orphans. Roman lived in Atlanta, Georgia with his foster parents where he attended Emory University, graduating and going on to start a successful international trade company. His adult life was dedicated to Jewish philanthropy and advocacy, serving as a voice for those murdered in the Shoah.
“As Chairman of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, Roman was a long-time board member and Co-Chair of the Claims Conference negotiating committee,” said Gideon Taylor, President of the Claims Conference. “Roman made himself available for every cause that we put in front of him, tirelessly giving of his time and energy. He will be remembered as an unwavering force of good will and an undeniable advocate for the global Jewish community. He was more than a colleague – he was family and his loss will leave a hole that can never be filled.”
At the Claims Conference, Roman Kent was as a long-time board member serving in many capacities over the years including as: treasurer, Co-Chair of the Claims Conference negotiating committee, on the Leadership Council, and as a Special Advisor to the President. In addition, he was the Chairman of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants and the President of the International Auschwitz Committee.
Greg Schneider, Executive Vice President of the Claims Conference, said, “None of these titles even begins to scratch the surface of the work he did during his lifetime. From negotiating billions of dollars in pensions and compensation for Jewish Holocaust survivors from the German government, championing survivor interests with insurance companies, German industry, and eastern European governments, to advocating for Holocaust education, to taking on Facebook in demanding that they remove Holocaust denial posts from their platform, no task was too large or too demanding. Even as his own health waned, he continued to fight against antisemitism and hatred.”
Claims Conference Special Negotiator, Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat, said, “The loss of Roman Kent as my co-chair is staggering and incalculable. I had the distinct privilege of working side by side with Roman during our ongoing negotiations on behalf of Holocaust survivors for more than a decade. He made it his personal mission to advocate for his fellow survivors to the very end, participating on negotiations calls as recently as last week. His strength and fortitude were unmatched, and his drive and determination to see justice served knew no bounds. There will be an enormous empty chair when we next negotiate with the German government. He will be sorely missed by all who were fortunate enough to know and him. Roman was not just my colleague in seeking justice for Holocaust survivors, he was my friend and my inspiration. Life will never be the same for me without him.”
Recently, in his last public appearance, Roman shared his thoughts in a video as part of the Claims Conference’s #ItStartedWithWords campaign, a digital, Holocaust education effort featuring videos of survivors from around the world reflecting on those moments that led up to the Holocaust. The video is emblematic of his longstanding efforts to raise awareness about how words of hate can lead to deadly consequences.
Reacting to the news of Kent’s passing, World Jewish Congress President Ronald S Lauder said: “Roman Kent was an inspirational figure who devoted himself throughout his life to providing justice to the survivors of the Holocaust. I was in awe of his life-long and commitment to the cause of Holocaust remembrance. He was a man who sought justice, not revenge, and who looked to the future instead of the past.
I vividly recall his moving address at Auschwitz on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of that Nazi death camp’s liberation when he declared: ‘We do not want our past to be our children’s future.’ On behalf of the more than 100 Jewish communities across the globe affiliated with the World Jewish Congress, I extend our deepest condolences to Roman’s children, grandchildren, and his entire family. May his memory be for a blessing.”
Jack Kliger, the President & CEO of the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in New York City said, “Today we mourn the passing of Roman Kent, a beloved and accomplished member of the survivor community, deeply committed to Holocaust education and related philanthropic causes, and to bearing witness.
On the occasion of International Holocaust Remembrance Day in 2016, Roman shared this thought with UNESCO: “Now if I had the power, I would issue an Eleventh Commandment to the world which would be ‘Do not be a bystander.’ It was indifference and the silence of people which led to the Holocaust. I would tell people not to turn away, to say something.”
Mr. Kliger added: “We remember his wife, Hannah Kent, who passed in 2018, and extend our heartfelt condolences to their children, Susan Kent Avjian and Jeffrey Kent, their three grandchildren, Sean Avjian, Dara Avjian, and Eryn Roberts, and their great granddaughter Hannah Leona Avjian Roberts. May his memory be a blessing, and may our continued work help fully realize his vision.”