Gallery & Timeline

Siggi’s Life & Legacy

While American teens were socializing in ice cream parlors, 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: to never go hungry again, to support the Jewish people, and to speak out against injustice.

He earned his first dollar shoveling snow after a fierce blizzard. His next job was laboring 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.

1930s: Early Life

Siegbert B. Wilzig was born in 1926 in Krojanke, West Prussia. The Wilzigs had roots dating back 300 years in Germany. His father was a decorated World War I veteran and trader in textiles and scrap.

 

1940 – 1950: The Holocaust and Emigrating to America

In February 1943, after two years of slave labor, Siegbert and his family were transported to Auschwitz. His mother and other members of his family were sent immediately to the gas chamber. Siegbert survived the first of more than a dozen selections by pretending to be older than sixteen and a master toolmaker. His father was bludgeoned by guards and died in Siegbert’s arms. He spent the next twenty-three months in Auschwitz. In May 1945, after two death marches, Siegbert was liberated from concentration camp Mauthausen by the American forces. Siegbert felt such gratitude for his American rescuers that he spent the next two years assisting the U.S. Army Counter Intelligence Corps in tracking down Nazi guards and Gestapo operatives in Austria and Bavaria. He emigrated to America in December 1947, weighing only 98 pounds, with only a few dollars and knowing no one.

 

1950 – 1960: Post Holocaust

His first job was shoveling snow in the Bronx after a heavy blizzard that winter. In the 1950s, he held numerous jobs including working as a bow tie presser in a Brooklyn sweatshop, a traveling leather-bound, loose-leaf binder salesman and a furniture store manager. He met Naomi Sisselman, nine years his junior, and the two were married in 1954 with a celebration at Little Hungary Restaurant in NYC. The couple had three children over the course of their marriage: sons Ivan and Alan and daughter Sherry.

 

1960 – 1970: Building an Empire

In the early 1960s, Siggi began investing in stocks. One stock that particularly caught his interest was Wilshire Oil Company of Texas. With help from friends and relatives, he led a proxy battle and in 1965 was elected to the Wilshire board of directors. Six months later, at the age of 39, he was elected president and chief executive of the company. During his tenure, Wilshire acquired a large interest in the Trust Company of New Jersey, a full-service, commercial bank. Siggi became a director in 1969 and was elected chairman and president two years later. Over the next thirty years, he grew the bank’s assets from $181 million to more than $4 billion.

 

1970 – 1980: Chairman, President & CEO

Siggi was elected chairman and CEO of the Trust Company of New Jersey in 1971. In 1974 he was elected the bank’s president. For his support of the state of Israel, he received the Prime Minister Award in 1975.

 

1980 – 1990: Philanthropy

In addition to his business interests, Wilzig was active in humanitarian and philanthropic causes, particularly those related to the Holocaust. In 1980, he was appointed as a founding member of the Holocaust Memorial Council in Washington. He was the first Holocaust survivor to lecture at West Point. He was a founding director and fellow of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.

 

1990 – 2003: Awards and Legacy

In recognition of his contributions to the United States, he received the Ellis Island Medal of Honor in 1998. He received honorary doctorates of law from Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and also Hofstra University Law School, where he endowed the Siggi B. Wilzig School of Banking Law. He retired as president and chief executive in 2002. Prior to his death in 2003 from multiple myeloma, he gave testimony for the Steven Spielberg Shoah Foundation. Running more than ten hours, it is the longest survivor testimony in the Foundation’s collection. In 2003, the Trust Company of New Jersey, “The Bank With Heart,” was sold to North Fork Bank for $726 million. He is survived by his three children and four grandchildren. Siggi’s achievements enabled him to support a number of charities. He endowed the Wilzig Hospital, a state-of-the-art medical facility and part of the Jersey City Medical Center; the Daughters of Miriam Home for the Aged; and the Jewish Home and Rehabilitation Center.

 

 

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