Jewish-Australian business tycoon Frank Lowy, who survived the Holocaust and fought in the Israeli War of Independence before moving to Australia, was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in a ceremony at Windsor Castle on Friday, The Australian reported.
The mall magnate, 87, now has the official title of Sir Frank Lowy. He was honored for his contribution to the British economy and philanthropic efforts in the country.
His company, Westfield – which he co-founded with another Holocaust survivor, John Saunders, in the 1950s – built two vast shopping malls in London over the past decade, including one at the site of the 2012 Olympic Games.
With a personal wealth estimated at $5.9 billion by Forbes, Lowy also has extensive connections to Israel, where he also reportedly keeps an apartment.
He is thought to still be a close friend of convicted former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. The two first met in the 1980s when Olmert was a regular visitor to Australia.
However, their friendship led to a long police investigation in 2007 after allegations that in 2005, then-Finance Minister Olmert had intervened on his friend's behalf in the bidding process for the sale of Bank Leumi.
Though Olmert was criticized by the state prosecutor for a conflict of interests, no indictment was brought against either man due to lack of evidence. Olmert later served 16 months in jail after being convicted of fraud and bribery over the Holyland affair in Jerusalem and was released last July.
Lowy ran into trouble with the Australian authorities in 2008 for allegedly concealing $68 million from the Australian Tax Office. However, he said he had given all of the money to Israeli charities.
Yet despite his generous donations to Israel over the years, Lowy has always maintained a low profile in the country. He funded the establishment of the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University in 2006, but made sure his name wasn't mentioned in the title. The center is a highly respected think tank on such areas as terrorism and military and strategic affairs.
An unnamed Israeli journalist told the Sydney Morning Herald in 2008, "This is a man who has deliberately sought to be under the radar" in Israel. "There are lots of billionaires who float in and out of Israel, naming foundations after themselves. But not Lowy."
Lowy was born in Filakovo (now Slokavia) in 1930. The family later moved to Hungary, but when the Nazis invaded the country in March 1944, Lowy's father, Hugo, immediately went to Budapest train station to get tickets for his wife and four children. The family never saw him again.
Frank Lowy only learned in 1991 that his father had in fact been transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in April 1944, and was beaten to death as soon as he got off the train. Lowy and his mother were moved to a ghetto, where they survived the war.
Lowy finally visited Auschwitz in 2013, where he delivered the keynote address on Holocaust Remembrance Day. His voice cracking, he told an audience in excess of 10,000 how his father had been beaten to death because he refused to sacrifice his tallit (prayer shawl) and tefillin (phylacteries).
“I never realized that he had strength – the spiritual strength – to take on the brutal guards here in Birkenau. No matter how hard they hit him, he protected the sanctity of his tallit and tefillin,” Lowy said.
After World War II, Lowy was interned in a detention camp in Cyprus after trying to make his way by ship to British Mandatory Palestine. When he finally made it, he joined the Haganah (pre-state Jewish militia) and later fought in the War of Independence.
Lowy told The Australian in 2010 that the six years he spent in Israel "really freed me from the encumbrances of the Eastern European persecution."
However, he left Israel in 1952 to join the rest of his family in Australia, where they had started a small delivery business. He delivered meats to the European immigrants and opened a delicatessen with Saunders. In 1959, they opened their first mall, in Sydney, and the Westfield empire was born. It now has over 100 malls in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia.
One of his formative experiences in Australia was joining Hakoah, a Jewish club founded by immigrants from Vienna. In her biography of Lowy, "Pushing the Limits," Jill Margo wrote: “It gave him a sense of belonging to a community and provided the opportunity to create some standing within the community. When he joined he was raw; he didn’t know how to speak publicly, let alone in English, and didn’t know the formalities of committee organization. At Hakoah, he honed these skills.”
Lowy told The Australian on Friday that while he was delighted to receive the knighthood, his first thought had been, "How come?"
Two of Lowy's sons are now involved in the day-to-day running of Westfield, but if his comment to The Australian in 2010 is any indication, Lowy is not the retiring type. "What is it to enjoy life? Sit at the beach? No. You have to do something, you have to be productive, make a contribution to society, to the family, to yourself."
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