Roman Kent, a Polish-born Holocaust survivor who negotiated with the German government for billions in compensation for his fellow survivors, died Friday at his Manhattan home. He was 92.
A longtime board member of the Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, or Claims Conference, Kent also fought for survivor interests with insurance companies, German industry and Eastern European governments.
Last year, Kent was among the Holocaust survivors who demanded Facebook remove posts denying the genocide ever happened. The #NoDenyingIt campaign argued that Facebook is too lenient toward Holocaust deniers.
“An incredible life, and an incalculable loss,” tweeted Cherrie Daniels, the State Department’s Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues.
Kent was chairman of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Decendents at the time of his death. The group documents the lives of survivors and works with educators to teach about the Holocaust.
He produced the award-winning documentary Children of the Holocaust, partially filmed in Auschwitz, which was honored at the 1980 New York International Film Festival.
“Roman made himself available for every cause put in front of him, tirelessly giving of his time and energy,” Gideon Taylor chair of operations for the World Jewish Restitution Organization, where he served on the executive committee, said in a statement.
“…No task was too large or too overwhelming,” Taylor wrote. “Even as his own health waned, he continued to fight against antisemitism and hatred.”
Born Roman Kniker in Lodz, Poland, he was 10 when the Germans invaded in 1939. He and his family were imprisoned in the Lodz ghetto a short time later.
They had to leave the family dog, Lala, behind, but Lala found them in the ghetto, where she remained until the Germans took her away. In 2006, he published a book called, “My Dog Lala,” which used his memories of the pup to educate children about the Holocaust.
Kent told his story to the USC Shoah Foundation in 2007. While in the ghetto, he was forced to sew leather knapsacks for German soldiers, but he and the other laborers resisted by slowing down production whenever they could. The harsh conditions there led to his father’s death from malnutrition in 1943.
In fall 1944, the ghetto was emptied and the family deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. He and his brother, Leon, were separated from their mother and two sisters. The brothers were transferred multiple times, to Gross-Rosen and Flossenberg, and were in a forced march to Dachau when U.S. troops liberated the Nazi’s death camps in April 1945.
After the war, they learned their mother died at Auschwitz, but their sisters survived. Their oldest sister, Dasza, died a few months later.
In 1946, Kent and his brother immigrated to the U.S. as part of a program for 5,000 Jewish orphans. The lived with foster families in Atlanta before attending Emory University.
After college, the brothers moved to New York and changed their name because it was easier to pronounce. Leon became a neurosurgeon, while Roman started an international trade company. He became deeply involved in causes that forwarded the needs of Holocaust survivors and those who helped Jews during the war.
Among a long list of other honors, in 2000 Kent was awarded the Elie Wiesel Holocaust Remembrance Award and the Schulweis Award from the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous. In 2005, he was awarded the Commander’s Cross of Merit, the highest civilian award given by the Polish government.
Kent married Hannah Starkman, a Lodz native and fellow Auschwitz survivor, in 1957. She died in December 2017. He is survived by his daughter Susan Kent Avjian, son Jeffrey Kent, three grandchildren, and a great granddaughter.