Sami Rohr, a Holocaust survivor and philanthropic supporter of several Jewish causes, was remembered last week for his role in sustaining the rebirth of Jewish life in the former Soviet Union and in assisting a wide variety of Jewish organizations in this country.
“He dedicated his life to make sure Judaism flourished in the future,” said Rabbi Sholom Lipskar, spiritual leader of The Shul, a Chabad-affiliated congregation Mr. Rohr and his wife Charlotte helped found in 1994 in Bal Harbour, Fla. “Every aspect of his life had meaning and a sense of purpose. He often repeated how important order was to life and to serving God.”
Mr. Rohr, a native of Germany who settled in Colombia after World War II and eventually became a successful real estate developer and philanthropist in the United States, died of a heart attack Aug. 5 in Miami Beach. A resident of Bal Harbour, he was 86.
An annual $100,000 literary prize for emerging Jewish writers, established by six years ago by his children and grandchildren on his 80th birthday and administered by the Jewish Book Council, bears his name.
“When the history of Judaism in the 20th and 21st centuries will be written, Sami and Charlotte Rohr [Mr. Rohr’s wife] and their family will be recognized as pivotal forces behind a Jewish renaissance in many countries, cities and townlets throughout the world,” Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, executive vice president of Chabad’s Merkos Linyonei Chinuch educational organization, said in a statement on chabad.org.
Mr. Rohr took part this spring in the dedication of the Feldinger Chabad Jewish Center in Basel, named for the Jewish family that had protected him during the war.
Mr. Rohr said he followed the example of his father, who told him on the day before he became bar mitzvah “that wealthy Jewish families can only maintain their wealth by giving” to worthy causes.
“Before my son George’s bar mitzvah,” he said in an interview, “I told him the same; my grandchildren were also told the same, and I pray that all my descendants will always observe this.”
Mr. Rohr was a supporter of the National Yiddish Book Center, the Aleph Society, the Gruss Life Monuments Fund and the Jewish Learning Institute.
A native of Berlin, Mr. Rohr fled Germany for Belgium with his parents 13 days after the Nov. 1938 Kristallnacht attack on Germany’s Jewish community.
Later they went to France and Switzerland. To reach Switzerland, the Rohrs arranged to be smuggled across the border by lying for hours under stacks on newspapers in a delivery truck, after which they walked for two hours through forests.
Several member of the Rohr family died in the Holocaust.
In 1950, Mr. Rohr’s father sent his son to Bogota, Colombia, where an aunt had found refuge. Mr. Rohr moved to Florida in the late 1970s.
His wife, Charlotte, died in 2007. Mr Rohr is survived by daughters Evelyn Katz and Lillian Tabacinic of Bal Harbour; one son, George, of New York, 12 grandchildren and eight great-grand-children.