The Eulogizer: Industrialist Felix Zandman and IAI founder Al Schwimmer


JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Eulogizer is a new column (soon-to-be blog) that highlights the life accomplishments of famous and not-so-famous Jews who have passed away recently. Learn about their achievements, honor their memories and celebrate Jewish lives well lived with The Eulogizer. Write to the Eulogizer at Read previous columns here.

Felix Zandman, 83, industrialist and Shoah survivor

Felix Zandman, who went from being nearly buried alive beneath a Polish peasant’s cottage during the Holocaust to being the head of a global electronics firm, died June 4 at 83.

Zandman founded Vishay Intertechnology Inc., a $2 billion electronics firm traded on Wall Street that supplies the computer, aerospace and other industries. Along with many other technological accomplishments that built his company, Zandman developed a “thermal sleeve” for the Israeli Merkava tank to improve its ability to reduce the turret’s deflection and increase its precision. He donated the invention to Israel.

Vishay’s initial products were stress gauges and a revolutionary electronic resistor that worked under extremes of hot and cold, which found a market at NASA and in the U.S. military.

Zandman’s breakthroughs “transformed the electronics industry," it was said when he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the U.S. National Electronic Distributors Association.

Zandman was born in Grodno, Poland, to a wealthy family. His grandfather ran a prosperous construction firm and his father was a chemist.

In 1943, when the Grodno ghetto was liquidated, Zandman hid in a pit under the house of a peasant family for 17 months. He learned mathematics from his uncle during this time. Details of Zandman’s Holocaust experience can be found in this in-depth article, which also recounts his technical achievements, and in a 1994 memoir, "Never the Last Journey," described as an “inspiring, heartbreaking document.”

Zandman’s parents and sister, who had been hiding apart from him, were discovered by the Gestapo and sent to the Treblinka concentration camp, where they were murdered.

After the war, Zandman studied engineering in France. He came to America in 1956, where his inventions in the field of transistors and resistors were in demand. He started Vishay in 1962 with a loan from his cousin and business partner, and named it after a town in Lithuania.

Vishay’s many acquisitions include the $500 million Temic Telefunken microelectronics GmbH, a producer of semiconductors and a leading German manufacturer during World War II, in 1998. When the contract was signed, Zandman put on a kipah and said a blessing.

Zandman received honorary Israeli citizenship in 1994. Three Vishay factories are in the Negev, and programs he established in Israel include the Center for Microelectronics of Thick Layers at Ben-Gurion University, and the Zandman-Slaner School of Graduate Studies in Engineering at Tel Aviv University. Zandman received an honorary doctorate  from Tel Aviv University in 2005 for “his contribution to the Israeli high-tech industry and to strengthening the country’s development towns.”

Adolph “Al” Schwimmer, 94, founded Israel Aircraft Industries

Adolph Schwimmer, who lost his U.S. citizenship for smuggling planes to Israel during the War of Independence, and later founded Israel Aircraft Industries at the behest of David Ben-Gurion, died June 11 at 94.

"Al Schwimmer was a man and a legend," Israeli President Shimon Peres said. "He made a decisive contribution to Israel’s defense and its aerial superiority."

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Schwimmer was a “man with a vision” who made “a significant and powerful contribution to Israel’s security in its early years and laid the foundations for the establishment of IAI, helping to position Israel as technological leader.”

Schwimmer was born in New York and became an aircraft engineer. He served in the U.S. Army Air Corps in World War II. After the war, Teddy Kollek and representatives of the Haganah asked him to help the yishuv. He helped smuggle weapons and bomber planes, including a B-17 Flying Fortress, to Israel through Czechoslovakia, where they were loaded with weapons. The official pretext was they would be used for a film. Schwimmer even established a production company in Hollywood as a front.

He was an engineer in the fledgling Israeli Air Force in 1948, but later returned to America. The FBI exposed Schwimmer’s activities and he was convicted of violating the Neutrality Act. Schwimmer lost his American citizenship in 1950 and returned to Israel a year later, where he established the company that became Israel Aircraft Industries.

Schwimmer was involved in the late 1960s “espionage operation” that helped Israel secure the plans for France’s Mirage fighter jet after French Premier Charles de Gaulle placed a weapons embargo on Israel. IAI used the plans to produce the Israeli-made Nesher and Kfir fighter jets, which are no longer used by Israel but are still sold worldwide.

Schwimmer also was involved in the “Irangate” affair as part of the U.S. sale of Israeli weapons to Iran during the American hostage crisis. His role was to lease jets and deliver weapons.

Schwimmer’s U.S. citizenship was restored in 2001 by President Clinton, who pardoned him upon leaving office. He won the Israel Prize in 2006.

Gus Tyler and Laura Ziskin

Not to be forgotten: labor activist and journalist Gus Tyler, 99, and Hollywood producer Laura Ziskin, 61, both died recently. The Eulogizer will tell their stories in upcoming columns.


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