Max Winder, 88, Holocaust survivor, businessman

February 22, 2005|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Max Winder, a Holocaust survivor who immigrated to Baltimore and became a successful businessman, died Friday of a pulmonary embolism at Northwest Hospital Center. The longtime Pikesville resident was 88.

He was born and raised Mordechai Winder in Radom, Poland, where his family owned a tannery. After the German invasion in 1939, Mr. Winder, his parents and three siblings were confined with other Jews to the Radom ghetto. The other members of his family were later executed.

Mr. Winder often risked his life in search of food for his family.

"He was able to slip in and out to go for food because he knew where the holes were in the ghetto," said his daughter, Miriam Winder Kelly of Lutherville.

"He was on the last transport out of Radom before the Germans executed those Jews who were left behind. He didn't talk about those years too much because he didn't want to dwell on the past. It was too painful," she said.

Mr. Winder was held at such notorious Nazi concentration work camps as Plaszow, near Krakow, Poland, whose inmates worked in a quarry and factories including Oskar Schindler's enamelware plant.

Because he was a strong teenager in relatively good health, Mr. Winder found himself being moved to other work camps including Gusen II in Austria, which was known as "Hell of Hells," where he worked in a Messerschmitt plant; Mauthausen; and the Majdanek death camp near Lublin, Poland.

"While being moved from one camp to another, he jumped from a truck and was able to remain free before being captured and sent back. However, he always seemed to be one step ahead of being liquidated," his daughter said.

He was 19 when he was liberated by U.S. troops as the war was ending.

"He always attributed his survival to being listed as a plumber's helper, where he spent his days carrying pipes. He often said if he knew what he was going to have to go through, he wouldn't have made it," Mrs. Kelly said.

While riding a train to a displaced-persons camp in Italy, Mr. Winder met Rosa Lipshitz, an Auschwitz survivor, with whom he fell in love. They married soon afterward. His wife died in 1992.

Brought to Baltimore by the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society in 1951, the young couple learned English at Polytechnic Institute while working in a grocery store at Robert and Division streets in the Druid Heights neighborhood. They later purchased the store.

Mr. Winder became an American citizen in 1955 and Anglicized his name to Max.

The Winders sold the store in 1965 and went into real estate purchasing and restoring old Reservoir Hill-area rowhouses. It wasn't uncommon for Mr. Winder to join work crews on carpentry, electrical and plumbing repairs.

Mr. Winder also encouraged and helped his tenants purchase their homes by offering financing.

"He thought it was good business helping people become homeowners in Baltimore. He used to say, `If you buy a house, you're somebody. You want something to show for your life more than a pile of rent slips,'" his daughter said.

"Oh, he was both a character and a hardworking man," said the Rev. Thomas Composto, who has operated the St. Francis Neighborhood Center on Linden Avenue since 1966. "I always admired his constancy, and he never got mad. He'd help me patch up old boilers, and my image of him is driving around Reservoir Hill in his white, beat-up van with a ladder on top.

"But he wasn't just another landlord out to make money. Tenants always complain about landlords, but not Max, because if they needed something fixed they knew he'd come right over and take care of it," Father Composto said.

Mr. Winder had no hobbies. He enjoyed working and was regularly at his Park Heights Avenue office.

In 2000, Mr. Winder placed a singles advertisement in the Jewish Times.

"He got five responses in five days from five widows and called the first one, Erna Segal. They married on Mother's Day in 2002. They would dance in the kitchen, attend the theater and go out to dinner," the daughter said. "In spite of the trauma of his life, he always looked on the positive side."

Services were yesterday.

In addition to his wife and daughter, Mr. Winder is survived by two grandchildren and several nieces and nephews.

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