About Yad Vashem
In Memoriam - Eliezer (Eli) Zborowski z”l (1925 - 2012)
In the summer of 1943 Eli Zborowski, then a young man of 17, left the ranks of the other resistance fighters in the Jewish Fighters' Organization and joined his mother and two younger siblings in-hiding – a move which would ultimately result in his survival of the Holocaust.
Born in Zarki, Poland, the first child to a Hassidic family, Eli Zborowski's childhood was spent in relative happiness. Even so, the shadow of antisemitism permeated his life from early on.
At the onset of WWII , the Germans began bombing Zarki almost immediately, and not long after, Eli Zborowski and his family were incarcerated in the Zarki Ghetto. While he was in the ghetto, Eli obtained false papers listing him as a gentile, which he used in order to leave the ghetto and serve as a liaison between the ghetto and the non-Jewish underground. In early 1943, a few months after the liquidation of the ghetto, the Zborowski family took refuge in the home of family acquaintances, Maria and Jozef Placzek. Eli's father, Moshe, a successful leather trader, was separated from the family and was taken to a German work camp from where he managed to escape in August 1943, only to be killed by Poles en route to joining his family in-hiding.
"My family was killed by Poles, but I was saved by Poles," said Eli Zborowski. "It really shows that you can never generalize about people."
Eli and his family were hidden in the Placzek family attic, in a hiding space crafted especially for them by Josef Placzek, a carpenter by vocation. The Placzeks went out of their way to provide Eli and his family with any provisions available to them, and their daughter Jadwiga, was of immeasurable help too. In March 1978, Yad Vashem recognized both Maria and Jozef Placzek as Righteous Among the Nations, and in May 1985, Jadwiga received the same designation.
In August 1944, fearing their hiding place had been discovered, Eli and his family fled from the Placzeks' home to the home of acquaintances of Eli’s father, the Kolacz family in the nearby village of Bobolice. There they joined six of their other family members already in-hiding in a small, cramped chicken coop where they remained until the end of the war. Andrzej Kolacz; his daughter, Stanislawa; his son, Jozef and Jozef's wife, Apolonia aided the Zborowski family throughout their stay and refused to accept the money offered to them after the war as recompense for their brave deeds. Jozef and Apolonia Kolacz received the title of Righteous Among the Nations in 1978, and Andrzej Kolacz and Stanislawa Pikula (formerly Kolacz) were recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations in 1998.
Eli survived the Holocaust together with his mother, sister, younger brother, and uncle's family. Following liberation, Eli Zborowski aided in the Aliyah Bet Operation (the illegal smuggling of Jews into British-Mandate Palestine) until the founding of the State in 1948. In early 1952, he emigrated from Europe to the United States together with his wife Diana née Wilf, also a Holocaust survivor. The couple settled in Forest Hills, New York, where Eli began his thriving business career with ventures in South America. Throughout the years, he headed several corporations including serving as President of All America Telecommunications Inc.
Even while building a new life for himself in America, Eli never forgot his Jewish roots or his self-stated obligation as a Holocaust survivor. "There were so many brushes with death," he recalled, "that I came out feeling as though I must have a mission in life, and that mission is the mission of remembrance and telling the story."
In an effort to educate about the Holocaust and to perpetuate the memory of his loved ones who perished, he began his affiliation with Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority in 1963. That same year, he initiated the first Yom Hashoah commemoration in the US. By 1969, he was serving as a member of the Yad Vashem directorate, and in 1977 he initiated the idea that Yad Vashem needed to memorialize all of the Jewish communities destroyed during the Holocaust, a discussion that led to the establishment of Yad Vashem's Valley of the Communities.
In 1981 he founded the American Society for Yad Vashem. "We began our efforts as the American Society, united in the desire that the horrors of the Holocaust should never be forgotten. Our support has helped Yad Vashem become one of the most significant landmarks in the moral history of humankind." Today the American Society boasts tens of thousands of members throughout the United States, all committed to the cause of Holocaust remembrance. The Society's Officers, Executive Board and Board of Governors constitute over one hundred members who oversee its policies and programs, including outreach, education and fundraising.
Along with his involvement with Yad Vashem, Eli Zborowski played an integral role in numerous other organizations dedicated to the preservation of Jewish memory and Zionist causes. In 1970, he founded the first umbrella organization for all survivors. In 1974, he founded Martyrdom & Resistance, a periodical devoted to the Holocaust. That same year, he endowed the first chair in Holocaust studies at Yeshiva University. He was appointed to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council by former US President Jimmy Carter and later was reappointed by former US President Ronald Reagan. He was also appointed to the New York Permanent Commission on the Holocaust by former New York Mayor, Edward Koch.
He was the founder and Honorary President of the American Federation of Jewish Fighters, Camp Inmates and Nazi Victims; Vice President, World Federation of Polish Jews; Benefactor, Ephraim Wilf Foundation; Benefactor, Moshe Zborowski Gemilat Chesed Fund-Free Loan Association; Trustee, Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture; and on the Executive Committee of the Claims Conference. He was one of six survivors - and the only American – to greet Pope John Paul II during his historic visit to Yad Vashem in 2000. He was also Chairman of the American Zionist Youth Foundation; Chairman, Salute to Israel Parade; and President of the American Israel Chamber of Commerce. He held an honorary Doctorate from Yeshiva University.
His first wife, of 57 years, Diana née Wilf died in 2004. In her memory, he established the Diana Zborowski Center for the Study of the Aftermath of the Holocaust. He said, “A critical aspect of the story of the Holocaust survivors is how we struggled to return to life. How were the survivors received by their countrymen and societies? How did our new homes treat us and view us? These questions, I believe, are vital to a deeper understanding of the long-lasting effects of the Holocaust.”
In July 2006 he married Dr. Elizabeth Mundlak, a child survivor from Czestochowa.
His biography, A Life of Leadership - Eli Zborowski: From the Underground to Industry to Holocaust Remembrance by Rochel & George Berman was published in 2012. On 3 April 2012, a special event marking the publication took place at Yad Vashem. Speaking before a packed room in the Yad Vashem Synagogue, Zborowski’s voice shook as he recalled his parents Moshe and Zisel, and the role models they were for him. Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev noted that at a young age Eli took on the responsibility of caring for his family, and that sense of responsibility is a key motivator for him. “His commitment towards Holocaust remembrance is so deep that he is willing to say, ‘naa’se v’nishma’ [I will do, and I will listen],” said Shalev. “It has been his lifelong mission to commemorate the Holocaust.”
Eli Zborowski was a man of poignant life chronicles and endless life visions. Of all his many undertakings and achievements he was most proud of his two children, Lillian and Morris and his many grandchildren. If given the opportunity to "show my father just one thing that I've accomplished in my life," said Eli Zborowski, "I would show him my family; children and grandchildren dedicated to Jewish tradition."
Eli Zborowski founded the American Society for Yad Vashem, which he led with unparalleled dedication for over 30 years - until the last day of his life.
Eli devoted his life to Yad Vashem and to Holocaust Remembrance and worked with us in solidarity and close partnership to commemorate the victims and impart the legacy of the survivors.
Eli would explain to those who sought to fathom the depth of his commitment and work, that the Jewish people’s national center for Holocaust commemoration sits upon the Mount of Remembrance in Jerusalem, and it is there that Jews should focus their efforts.
That's what Eli would say, and that's precisely what Eli did.
On behalf of the Yad Vashem family, I wish to convey our heartfelt condolences and deepest sympathy to the entire Zborowski family.
Eli Zborowski was a fighter and a leader. Eli was my friend – a true partner, who labored unceasingly to help ensure that Yad Vashem would achieve its goals.
May his memory be blessed,
Yad Vashem Directorate
"Eli Zborowski is the most important and central figure of our generation in perpetuating the holy commandment zachor v'lo tishkach – to remember and not to forget."
Rabbi Israel Meir Lau
Chairman, Yad Vashem Council
Former Chief Rabbi, State of Israel