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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Holocaust survivor dies, leaving $40M to no one

Holocaust survivor and New York property developer Roman Blum left no heirs, no surviving family members — and $40 million.

Now, in the absence of an heir, the state of New York will probably take over the money — the largest unclaimed estate in the state's history, the New York Times reported Sunday.

According to the Times, when Blum died last year at 97, his body remained unclaimed in the Staten Island University Hospital morgue for four days, until a rabbi was able to hunt down his lawyer.

His wife, Eva, died before him and the couple didn't have any children.

Everything from where he was born — Blum claimed he hailed from Warsaw; acquaintances say Chelm, southeast Poland — to his date of birth to whether he had been married before the Holocaust is still something of a mystery.

What is known about Blum is that he was extremely successful in what he did, building thousands of houses on Staten Island — where he lived in a modest little house — and left behind $40 million, but no will.

Blum's house has already been sold off, his jewelry and furniture auctioned and the public administrator is using his estate to pay off his taxes, hunt for a will and track down any surviving relatives through a genealogist.


The fact that Blum's fortunes could actually end up with the state is a matter of great misfortune, his friends told the Times, not unlike the one Blum faced in Eastern Europe when he was younger.

"He was a very smart man but he died like an idiot," Paul Skurka, a fellow Holocaust survivor who met Blum in the 1970s, told the paper.

Blum's close friend and accountant said that he had tried to persuade him to write a will, but it was too late by the time Blum had made up his mind.

According to those who knew him, Blum ran away from Poland to Russia to avoid being captured during World War II and spent time in a Russian prison, later marrying Eva, a concentration camp survivor.

The couple eventually arrived in New York in 1949 and settled down in a Holocaust survivors' community in Forest Hill, Queens.

Blum, who was known as a "ladies man" in his circle, lived modestly, despite his growing wealth. He moved to Staten Island in the 1980s, while his wife decided to stay back in the livelier Queens neighborhood.

The couple eventually divorced, and Blum started living like a bachelor.

“Every Sunday we would swim in the pool, drink and eat," one of his friends told the Times.

Blum became increasingly stingy and suspicious of people in his old age, even accusing his neighbors of stealing his money.

The search for an heir continues, and has reached as far as Poland, where some think Blum might have had siblings or a child before the war.

So far, there's no proof of any living relatives.

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