Elan Steinberg, 59, advocate for Holocaust survivors

Tributes and statements of profound respect and admiration poured in for Elan Steinberg, former executive director of the World Jewish Congress, who died April 6 of complications from lymphatic cancer. He was 59.

“One of the great Jewish activists of the past decade left us today,” said WJC President Ronald Lauder. “Elan’s premature death will leave a huge void in the Jewish world. He was deeply committed to advocating the rights of the Jews around the world, and of Holocaust survivors in particular.”

Steinberg helped organize the research, hearings, media campaign and eventually the lawsuit that forced Swiss banks to agree to pay $1.2 billion to compensate victims of the Holocaust and their descendants. In the aftermath of that action, European governments, insurance companies and other organizations also began payments.

In a statement read at Steinberg’s funeral, Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel said, “Whenever Jews were in danger, or Jewish honor offended, he vigorously yet elegantly spoke up. Whenever Jewish memory was attacked, he attacked the attacker.”

Other accomplishments by Steinberg included initiating a campaign challenging the former United Nations Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim over his Nazi associations and persuading the Vatican and Spain to recognize Israel. He pushed opposition to a Carmelite convent at Auschwitz and convinced filmmaker Steven Spielberg not to film scenes for “Schindler’s List” at the Nazi death camp. — jta