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Computer pioneer Jack Tramiel dies at 83

Jack Tramiel, an Auschwitz survivor and founder of Commodore International, which pioneered low-cost home computers, died April 9 at 83.

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"Jack Tramiel was an immense influence in the consumer electronics and computing industries. A name once uttered in the same vein as Steve Jobs is today, his journey from concentration camp survivor to captain of industry is the stuff of legends," said Martin Goldberg, who is working on a book about the early days of video games and computing. "Jack Tramiel was an immense influence in the consumer electronics and computing industries.”

The company launched the Vic20, Commodore PET, and Commodore 64 computers, in the 1980s. The latter went on to be one of the best-selling computer models of all time and it was a favorite among early video game fans, including a number who became famous video game designers.

He was born Jacek Trzmiel in Lodz, Poland, in 1928. His family was put in the Lodz ghetto and then sent to Auschwitz, where he came face to face with Josef Mengele. His family perished in the camp. He was liberated from Auschwitz by the US Army and later joined the army in America, where he learned how to repair office equipment. In 1953 he bought a typewriter repair shop in New York and named it Commodore Portable Typewriter.

Restless in New York, two years later he moved to Toronto to import Italian typewriters. He then started manufacturing them. In the late 1960s he went to California’s nascent Silicon Valley, where Commodore began manufacturing electronic calculators.

Faced with competition, Tramiel purchased chip manufacturer MOS Technology to supply Commodore with parts and then moved it into microcomputers, where it developed PET, Personal Electronic Transactor, which brought huge profits, but then Tramiel was fired as CEO and later purchased Atari.

At the time of his death, Tramiel, “had faded from the valley scene and even valley lore,” wrote the San Jose Mercury News. "He helped pioneer the game industry and the personal computer industry, but at a certain point the world blew past him," the paper quoted author and valley historian Michael S. Malone. "It came down to the big battle of who was going to have the industry standard."

The Eulogizer highlights the life accomplishments of famous and not-so-famous Jews who have passed away recently. Write to the Eulogizer at eulogizer@jta.org. Follow the Eulogizer on Twitter @TheEulogizer

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