Isak Federman of Leawood, the only member of his family to survive the Holocaust and who co-founded the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education, has died at the age of 94.
Federman’s funeral was Sunday.
Born in Poland, Federman was 17 years old in 1939 during the Nazi occupation when he was snatched off the street by German SS officers and never returned home again. Under the threat of death, he first helped build a forced-labor camp. During the course of World War II, he was imprisoned in 18 concentration camps performing a variety of tasks, including clearing rubble after Allied bomb runs over Berlin.
He was shot while escaping from the Bergen Belsen camp, survived in the woods for a few days, but was recaptured and remained imprisoned until the British liberated Sandbostel, a sub-camp of Neuengamme, in May 1945. He weighed about 80 pounds at the time and was sick with typhus.
Federman was the only member of his family of six — three siblings, mother and stepfather — to survive the Holocaust.
He immigrated to the United States after the war, settling in Kansas City where he married Ann Warshawski, also a Holocaust survivor. She survives him, along with their son, two daughters, five grandchildren and seven great grandchildren.
A successful businessman, Federman co-founded Superior Upholstered Furniture Co. in 1948 and sold it in 1976, after which he founded K.C. Textile Co., which he sold in 1996. He was a founding director of Lenexa National Bank, which Commerce Bank later purchased.
He and his friend Jack Mandelbaum started the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education in 1993. Federman, his wife-to-be and Mandelbaum all left Frankfurt, Germany together in 1946 on the same ship on their way to a new life in the United States.
Mandelbaum regretted not being able to attend Sunday’s funeral.
“With profound sadness I received the news of Isak’s death while traveling in Poland,” Mandelbaum wrote. “Isak was my older brother. We shared our grief, happiness and accomplishments together. May his memory be a blessing.”
The goal of the center they founded is to “counter indifference, intolerance and genocide” by teaching about that brutal period.
Federman shared his own experiences with groups on many occasions, as well as in a video on the center’s website.
He was a longtime member and former president of Kehilath Israel Synagogue and known for his engaging personality.
“He was a character,” according to his obituary in Sunday editions of The Kansas City Star. “A dramatic and humorous storyteller who could take over a room and make friends instantly.”