Australian billionaire Sir Frank Lowy makes aliyah

Holocaust survivor who fought as part of the Hagana paramilitary group in 1948 sells real estate empire and returns to Israel

In this file photo from November 28, 2014, Football Federation Australia Chairman Frank Lowy smiles as he greets Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi at the Lowy Institute in Sydney. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft, File)
Australian real estate magnate Sir Frank Lowy in Sydney, Australia, November 28, 2014. (AP /Rick Rycroft, File)

Frank Lowy, a Holocaust survivor who fought in Israel’s War of Independence and went on to become a billionaire shopping magnate in Australia, has made aliyah.

“I feel that I’m home. That’s all. Very simple,” Lowy said in an interview aired Tuesday by Israel’s Channel 12.

Born in what is now Slovakia in 1930, Lowy and his family ended up in the Budapest ghetto during the war, where his father Hugo disappeared while trying to find the family a way out. Lowy escaped to France, tried to reach Palestine and was interned by the British in Cyprus before finally arriving and joining the Hagana, fighting in Israel’s War of Independence.

“When I was a lone soldier I didn’t have a penny with me. Everybody was eating hummus with tehina and ate falafel, and I couldn’t buy it. I was a little hungry, but I managed,” Lowy said in Hebrew.

Australian billionaire and philanthropist Sir Frank Lowy walking on Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv after making aliyah, May 2019. (Channel 12 screen capture)

Working as a plumber in Haifa after the war, Lowy decided to join his mother and brother when they got visas to Australia in 1952, anglicizing his name from Pinchas to Frank. In a rags-to-riches success story, Lowy worked his way up and in 1959 co-founded the shopping center company Westfield, which he sold in December 2017 for $33 billion.

Later that year he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth “for his contribution to the UK economy through the company he founded, Westfield, and its major investments in the UK.”

Lowy said his regard for the UK began when he listened to the BBC World Service as a young boy in war-torn Eastern Europe. He recalled that as a child he would sit beside the radio in a bunker, listening to the chimes of Big Ben in London introduce the latest war news.

“It always gave us hope that help was on the way, and that the war would end in our favor,” he said.

Israel has always been close to Lowy’s heart and he is known for his philanthropic activity, as well as a failed attempt to buy Bank Leumi. That episode ended in 2007 with an investigation of alleged interference in the bid by then prime minister Ehud Olmert.

Plagued his entire life by not knowing the fate of his father, Lowy was stunned when 45 years after his disappearance a stranger approached his son, Peter, who was living in California in 1991, and told him, “I was with your grandfather in Budapest” when the two were arrested by the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz.

Peter told his father the news, and Frank Lowy took the next flight to California to talk to the man, discovering that his father had been shot and killed upon arriving at Auschwitz after repeatedly refusing to give up his prayer shawl and tefillin.

“He could not live without his tallit and tefillin,” a tearful Lowy said.

With the new knowledge, Lowy restored a train car that was used to deport Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz as a monument and dedicated it at the camp in 2013 as part of the March of the Living, where he was finally able to say the Kaddish mourner’s prayer for his father.

Speaking about his path in life, Lowy attributed his success to never giving up.

“The word ‘no’ is not for me. I don’t hear it. You always have to try again and again,” Lowy said.

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