Polish History Museum polski

Remembering Sigmund Rolat

 Sigmunt Rolat talking about Jan Karski at the Jan Karski U.S. Centennial Campaign inaugural dinner at the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland in New York, NY (Photo: Courtesy of the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland) Sigmunt Rolat talking about Jan Karski at the Jan Karski U.S. Centennial Campaign inaugural dinner at the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland in New York, NY (Photo: Courtesy of the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland)

We were deeply saddened by the news of Mr. Sigmund Rolat’s passing on May 19. A Holocaust survivor, Polish-American businessman, generous philanthropist, art lover, collector and patron, and the Jan Karski Educational Foundation supporter, Mr. Rolat will remain in our hearts as a gracious and kind role model.

Sigmund Rolat (born Zygmunt Rozenblat) was born in 1930 in Częstochowa, Poland. He was only nine when the Nazi Germany invasion of Poland shattered his young life. His mother and brother died in the Częstochowa ghetto, and so did his Catholic nanny, who refused to abandon Sigmund. Later, Rolat warmly reminisced about his caregiver with eternal gratitude for her altruism and sacrifice. After the liquidation of the ghetto, his father was sent to the Nazi death camp in Treblinka, where he was murdered. Having experienced and witnessed such heartbreaking experiences, Rolat, who ultimately survived the ghetto and, later, a labor camp, was never bitter about his tragic past and always embraced new opportunities that life presented to him. After the war, he emigrated to the U.S., graduated from the University of Cincinnati and New York University, and eventually built a successful international finance company. His wealth and generous heart enabled him to support many charitable causes and art endeavors throughout his life.

He always felt a positive connection to his homeland and was considered a champion of Polish-Jewish dialogue. He welcomed political and economic changes in Poland in the 1990s with open arms and immediately got involved in and supported the rebirth of Jewish life in his homeland, which the new reality facilitated. He was a founding donor and Board member of the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw and a leading patron of the annual Jewish Culture Festival in Kraków and Warsaw’s Singer Jewish Culture Festival. In 2013, Mr. Rolat’s contributions to the Polish-Jewish dialogue were recognized with the Commander’s Cross with Star of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland, Poland’s highest civilian honor, presented to him personally in New York City by the then President of the Republic of Poland, Bronisław Komorowski.

Mr. Rolat enthusiastically supported the Jan Karski U.S. Centennial Campaign, which led to the Polish hero being posthumously honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest American civilian honor (pictured, second from the left during the White House ceremony on May 29, 2012; Photo: Lawrence Jackson, The White House).

“For me, Karski was—and continues to be—one of the major personages of WWII,” said Mr. Rolat at that time. “He is like a saint to me. I was a mere child, a teenager toiling in a slave labor camp in Częstochowa, living in fear and despair, convinced that the world had totally abandoned and forgotten us when this noble young Polish Catholic was setting out for his fateful last mission. Had I known at that time that he would tell the world about our plight—

I am proud to support the work to keep the memory of Karski alive and to try to draw lessons from his story by teaching the young people of today that even in the worst of times, people who live and act by moral principles will be remembered and revered forever.”

When the Jan Karski U.S. Centennial Camping evolved into the Jan Karski Educational Foundation, Mr. Rolat embraced its mission and became the Foundation’s benefactor. He provided financial assistance to several educational projects organized by the Foundation and its sister organization in Poland, including the award-winning graphic novel Karski’s Mission: To Stop the Holocaust.

Sigmund Rolat died in New York on May 19, 2024, and his funeral took place on May 20 at the Park East Synagogue. His family members described him as a determined and strong man, yet gentle and kind, a bridge-builder who lived his life to the fullest. Among the speakers were the Chief Rabbi of Poland, Michael Schudrich, and the Consul General of the Republic of Poland in New York, Adrian Kubicki, who read letters from the President of the Republic of Poland, Andrzej Duda, and the Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Radosław Sikorski.

Members of the Board and staff of Jan Karski Educational Foundation and Fundacja Edukacyjna Jana Karskiego express their deepest condolences to the family and friends.

You can watch the funeral by following this LINK.