Siegbert Wilzig (changed to Siggi Bert Wilzig upon immigration to the US in 1947) was born in 1926 in Krojanke, West Prussia to a Jewish family.
He was the second youngest of eight children. Although he didn’t know it at the time when he was forced into the Auschwitz concentration camp at 16 years old, he was destined to be a survivor and to win and succeed against all odds.
Shortly after reaching Auschwitz, his brother was beaten to death. His mother was murdered immediately upon her arrival at the death camp. He calculated that the Nazis murdered 59 members of his family over a three-year period, one of whom was his father, who died in Siggi’s arms. The victim of repeated beatings by Nazi guards. Siggi’s father told him: Don’t be bitter and stick to your principles. All but one of Siggi’s siblings perished at Auschwitz.
After two death marches and near starvation, Wilzig was rescued by the US Army from the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp (on 5th May 1945). He expressed his gratitude by spending the next two years as a volunteer helping the US Counter-Intelligence Corps track down former SS and other operators of Hitler’s camps. In 1947, this service earned him a visa to America.
Miraculously, Wilzig was the only survivor of his Jewish grade school class of 1,500. Aged only 21, near-penniless, arriving in the US on the SS Marine Fletcher in 1947 amid the worst blizzard in living memory and with no job or contacts in his new homeland, and having only a grade school education, he accepted whatever jobs he could find, including bow-tie presser, travelling salesman, and eventually general manager of a furniture store.
Over the next 50 years, Wilzig became one of the most successful businessmen in post-war America, rising to the top of the predominantly Protestant oil and banking industries. The engine that drove him forward was a determination to preserve Holocaust memory and follow his father’s advice – not to be bitter and to stick to his principles.
In the early 1960s, Siggi began spending his sales commissions to purchase stock in Wilshire Oil Company of Texas. Together with a more experienced investor, Siggi spearheaded a takeover of Wilshire. Despite his ignorance of the oil and gas industry, he demonstrated to Wilshire’s board of directors a possession of extraordinary insight when it came to business decisions. Six months later, in 1965, at the age of 39, he was elected President and Chief Executive of the company. Under his leadership, Wilshire Oil acquired a significant interest in the Trust Company of New Jersey. He became a director of the Trust Company of New Jersey in 1969 and was elected chairman and president two years later. In 2002 cancer forced him to step down from his duties as president.
Wilzig frequently lectured on the importance of Holocaust memory and was an outspoken opponent of Holocaust denial. He was instrumental in building the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC.
Picture Credit: Rights of Author and Publisher and Amazon.com ©, Copyright duly acknowledged
Unstoppable, written by Joshua M. Greene, is the biographical story of Siggi B. Wilzig’s astonishing journey from an Auschwitz survivor and a near-penniless immigrant to the US to become a Wall Street Legend:
‘While American teens were socializing in ice cream parlours, Siggi was suffering beatings by Nazi hoodlums for being a Jew and was soon deported along with his family to the darkest place the world has ever known: Auschwitz. Siggi used his wits to stay alive, pretending to have trade skills the Nazis could exploit to run the camp. After two death marches and near starvation, he was liberated from camp Mauthausen and went to work for the US Army hunting Nazis, a service that earned him a visa to America.
On arrival, he made three vows: never to go hungry again, to support the Jewish people, and to speak out against injustice. He earned his first dollar shovelling snow after a fierce blizzard. His next job was labouring in toxic sweatshops. From these humble beginnings, he became president, chairman and CEO of a New York Stock Exchange-listed oil company and grew a full-service commercial bank to more than $4 billion in assets.’
Sources and Further Reading
- Book: Unstoppable: Siggi B. Wilzig’s Astonishing Journey from Auschwitz Survivor and Penniless Immigrant to Wall Street Legend Hardcover (6th April 2021) by Joshua Greene (Author), and Deborah E. Lipstadt (Author) – available at Amazon at https://www.amazon.co.uk/Unstoppable-Astonishing-Auschwitz-Penniless-Immigrant/dp/164722215X
Picture Credit: “Auschwitz-Birkenau” by Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0