I was privileged to attend an event at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Los Angeles honoring a man who was not only a Holocaust survivor but also a hugely successful businessman and philanthropist. At the time I attended, Max Webb was 95 years young. His story of how he overcame such extreme adversity was compelling.
In his lifetime, he experienced unbelievable atrocities and adversity. He was born a Jew in Lodz, Poland in 1917. His family struggled to make ends meet. In 1939, when he was young, Hitler’s army marched into Poland and destroyed everything in its path. Max witnessed German soldiers slamming newborn babies against the wall and then tossing them out the window of the local hospital into a dump truck below.
During the war, he survived 6 concentration camps including Auschwitz-Birkenau and 12 labor camps. When he was at Auschwitz, he faced the infamous Dr. Mengele several times.
Max quipped at the event I was attending:
“Dr Mengele is dead. I’m still alive.”
He also survived the Death March of 1944. Thousands of prisoners died as the SS attempted to hide what really happened. Only a small percentage of those who endured the marches survived.
Max Webb’s parents and several siblings were killed immediately upon arriving at the camps. Max, along with his twin sister Lola and brother Isaac were the only members of his immediate family who made it through the war.
When Max was liberated from Waldenburg, he and his friend Nathan Shapell settled in Munchberg Germany and began the task of rebuilding their lives. They helped form a Jewish community there. It was brave of him to live with the Germans again knowing they had killed over 6 million Jews. He married his friend Nathan’s sister Sela, who was also a survivor, and they had 2 daughters before deciding to immigrate to the United States in 1952. Max and Sela ended up in Los Angeles where he and his relatives started a construction business.
It soon developed into a thriving home building and commercial development business that made both Max and Nathan rich and successful. It soon became one of the largest real estate development companies in Southern California.
During this time, Max suffered the loss of his wife to illness. He remarried and eventually lost his second wife.
Max was still going to the office every day and put in a full day of work. His employee’s lives were enhanced by his wisdom and humor because he knew the importance of bringing a smile to the faces of everyone he meets.
Surviving the adversity of the camps was a constant reminder to Max that his life was given back to him and he promised to do whatever he could for those less fortunate. He became an important philanthropist and has contributed to projects that include the construction of Cedar’s Sinai hospital in Los Angeles.
Many of his efforts were on the behalf of the Jewish community and he stayed actively involved in Temple activities. One project he supported is called March of the Living. Teens are sent to Poland and Israel along with Holocaust survivors to learn the stories so they can keep them alive long after the survivors are gone.
Max Webb’s secret to longevity and how to lead a fulfilling life:
“Life is easy. It’s simple. It is people who make it complicated.”
“Instead of dwelling on problems, try to find the solution to them.”
“There is no real answer to the secret of life. Just try to live and do your best.”
Max’s sense of purpose was always crystal clear after the war ended. Witnessing tragedy on a scale no one would ever want to experience, he made a promise to his mother (who was killed) and to God. His passion allowed him to succeed and live a happy, fulfilled, and prosperous life, despite the obstacles that he was forced to endure.
As a survivor of the Holocaust, Max overcame extreme adversity and still was able to enjoy a long and purposeful life. He knew that there may not be another morning and that he should live life to the fullest.
Addendum: Max passed away in 2018 at the age of 101.
Who do you know who has faced great adversity and lived to make a significant mark in the world? Please leave a comment and share. We would love to honor those heroes.