NEW YORK, N.Y. – Elan Steinberg, a longtime advocate for Holocaust survivors, died Friday in Manhattan from complications of lymphatic cancer. He was 59.
The former World Jewish Congress (WJC) head won more than $1 billion from Swiss banks for Holocaust victims.
“One of the great Jewish activists of the past decade left us today,” said WJC President Ronald Lauder in a statement posted on the organization’s website. “Elan’s premature death will leave a huge void in the Jewish world. He was deeply committed to advocating the rights of the Jews around the world, and of Holocaust survivors in particular. He was probably the most gifted communication professional in the Jewish organizational world. He will be sorely missed.”Steinberg was known for his powerful leadership of WJC, ruffling a few feathers during his 26-year tenure. He led the effort to win the $1.2 billion for Holocaust victims in the late 1990s, and earlier intervened in Austrian elections to attempt to prevent presidential hopeful Kurt Waldheim, who had hidden his membership in a Nazi unit, from winning. Waldheim later won the presidency.
“Whenever Jews were in danger, or Jewish honor offended, he vigorously yet elegantly spoke up, said Elie Wiesel in a statement read at Mr. Steinberg’s funeral. “Whenever Jewish memory was attacked, he attacked the attacker.”
His leadership was seen as a departure from the Congress’s typical approach.
“For a long time,” Steinberg said, “the World Jewish Congress was meant to be the greatest secret of Jewish life, because the nature of diplomacy after the war was quiet diplomacy. This is a newer, American-style leadership — less timid, more forceful, unashamedly Jewish.”
Steinberg is survived by his wife, three children, and brother.