June 7, 2011, - 4:50 pm
I love reading the “Remembrances” column by the Wall Street Journal’s Stephen Miller. It’s an obituary column on a particular American of greatness or other significance who recently died, and it’s a really good slice of American life, even when it’s about a crazy leftist woman who developed an underwire bra and gave money to the Black Panthers. Today, though, the column is about Felix Zandman, a Holocaust survivor from Poland, who became an American, and went on to become a multi-millionaire, developing components for NASA and and helping to develop Israel’s famous Merkava tank. He took special pride in acquiring a German company that had produced semi-conductors for the Nazis during WWII. A GREAT story about what is possible in America and what a person can do in overcoming tremendous tragedy:
Felix Zandman, Zichrono LiVrachah [Blessed Be His Memory], Founder of Vishay
He was one of the few Jews in Grodno, a Polish city during World War II and now part of Belarus, who survived the war. A strong math student, he studied engineering at the Sorbonne after the war and developed methods for stress-testing airplane wings using plastic films.
He later immigrated to the U.S., where he founded Vishay to manufacture stress gauges and a revolutionary kind of electronic resistor that worked under extremes of hot and cold. The resistors found a ready market at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and in the military and later in computers.
Mr. Zandman was born in Grodno, where his maternal grandfather ran a prosperous construction firm and his father, descended from Talmudic scholars, was a chemist with Zionist sympathies.
After surviving the first part of World War II as a young slave, Mr. Zandman and an uncle escaped to the countryside where a Catholic family sheltered them for 17 months in a tiny underground chamber along with two other Jews.
Quarters were so cramped that they had to take turns standing and sleeping. Occasionally, German troops hunting for Jews would come by with dogs, and their host would confuse them by spreading black pepper around the chamber’s air vent. To while away the hours underground, Mr. Zandman’s uncle taught him trigonometry and higher math by rote.
Most of the rest of Mr. Zandman’s family died in Treblinka, he wrote in a 1994 memoir, “Never the Last Journey.”
In 1962, Mr. Zandman founded Vishay with financial backing from a cousin, Alfred Slaner, who had found success as manufacturer of Supp-Hose support hosiery. The name, Vishay, came from their grandmother’s village in Lithuania.
During the 1980s, with Mr. Zandman as chief executive, Vishay went on an acquisitions spree, creating a broad-based electronics company with sales of $2.7 billion in 2010. The Malvern, Pa., company has manufacturing facilities in China, Israel and several other countries.
Mr. Zandman led Vishay’s $500 million 1998 acquisition of Temic Telefunken microelectronics GmbH, a producer of semiconductors and a leading German manufacturer during World War II. When the contract was signed, Mr. Zandman put on a yarmulke and said a blessing, he told the Hebrew popular science magazine Galileo in 2007.
A Zionist since his youth, Mr. Zandman worked on projects with the Israeli military, including helping to develop the cannon of the heavy Merkava tank. He was made an honorary citizen of Israel in 1994.
Dr. Felix Zandman, great American and a proud Jew, Blessed Be His Memory.
Tags: Alfred Slaner, Belarus, cannon, China, Dogs, Dr. Felix Zandman, engineer, Felix Zandman, Galileo, German troops, Germany, Grodno, Holocaust, Holocaust survivor, Israel, Lithuania, Malvern, Merkava, Merkava tank, Never the Last Journey, Pennsylvania, Pepper, Poland, semiconductors, Sorbonne, Supp-Hose, Temic Telefunken microelectronics GMbH, Treblinka, Vishay, World War II, Zionist