Remembering Roman Kent z”l

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May 21, 2021

Holocaust survivor, Roman Kent at the train tracks outside of Auschwitz during the 70th anniversary of the death camp’s liberation.

The Claims Conference mourns the passing of one of our beloved board members, Roman Kent z”l. Chairman of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, Roman was a long-time Board member and co-Chair of the Claims Conference negotiating committee. Roman made himself available for every cause we put in front of him, tirelessly giving of his time and energy. He was more than a constant colleague – he was family and will be sorely missed.

Born in Lodz, Poland in 1929, Roman survived the Lodz ghetto and several death camps including Merzbachtal, Dornau, and Flossenburg before ending up at Auschwitz. Roman’s father died of malnutrition in the Lodz ghetto and his mother was murdered in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Roman and his brother Leon were liberated by the U.S. army in 1945, while on a death march to Dachau. The brothers were reunited with their two sisters, Dasza and Renia in Sweden after liberation, but sadly, their sister Renia was very ill and passed away.

In June 1946, Roman and Leon immigrated to the United States as part of a government plan to admit 5,000 orphans. Roman lived in Atlanta, Georgia with his foster parents where he attended Emory University. After graduating he went on to start a successful international trade company.

Survivor representatives, Roman Kent and Marion Turski – both survivors of the Lodz Ghetto and Auschwitz – accompanied German officials on a tour of the USHMM, where a cattle car in the museum’s permanent exhibition served as an impromptu setting for both survivors to share with the German delegation their individual experiences of being deported to Auschwitz and the horrific conditions they endured.

His adult life was dedicated to Jewish philanthropy and advocacy, serving as a voice for those murdered in the Shoah. He was President of the Jewish Foundation of the Righteous, an organization that provides financial assistance to those recognized as Righteous Among Nations who are living in poverty. He has also served as Vice President and later President of the International Auschwitz Committee since 2003, and was the Chairman of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants until the time of his death. President Clinton appointed Roman to the Presidential Advisory Commission of Holocaust Assets in the U.S. in 1998. And in October 2011, President Obama named him to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, the body that oversees the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

At the Claims Conference, Roman was a long-time Board member serving as treasurer, on the Leadership Council, a special advisor to the President, and Co-Chair of the Claims Conference negotiating committee. None of these titles even begins to scratch the surface of the work he did during his lifetime. From negotiating billions of dollars in pensions and compensation for Jewish Holocaust survivors from the German government, championing survivor interests with insurance companies, German industry, and eastern European governments, to advocating for Holocaust education, to taking on Facebook demanding that they remove Holocaust deniers from their platform, no task was too large or too overwhelming. Even as his own health waned, he continued to fight against antisemitism and hatred.

Negotiations with the German government on behalf of Holocaust survivors worldwide; Special Negotiator, Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat (left), Survivor Representative and Co-Chair of the negotiating delegation, Roman Kent (center), and delegation member, Ambassador Reuven Merhav (right).

Roman was the author of two books, including the children’s educational book based on his pre-war pet, My Dog Lala, and was Instrumental in the making of Children of the Holocaust, a 1980 documentary film dedicated to the memory of the children who died during the Holocaust. A recipient of many honors, including the Medal of Honor and Recognition from the Polish Government, the Interfaith Committee of Remembrance Humanitarian Award, the Elie Wiesel Holocaust Remembrance Award, and the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.

His wife, Hannah, also a survivor of Auschwitz, passed away in December of 2017. Roman is survived by his daughter Susan Kent Avjian, and son-in-law Robert Avjian, his son Jeffrey Kent, three grandchildren, Dara Avjian, Eryn Kent Roberts (Joshua Roberts), and Sean Avjian, as well as a great granddaughter, Hannah Leona Avjian Roberts. His loss will leave a hole that can never be filled.

May the family be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.