WHO WE ARE - Meet the Executive
Interview with Joseph H. Domberger, Honorary Life President of B'nai B'rith Europe
I was born on 17th June 1926 in Drohobycz.
If you ask me where the city lies:
When my father was born there it was the Austro-Hungarian Empire,
when I was born there it was Poland.
During the Second World War it was occupied by the Germans, after the war it became Soviet Union and after the Soviet Union was dissolved it became Ukraine.
2. Can you tell us something about your early life? & History of your family before 1939
As I lost my mother at a very early age, I was brought up by my aunt and the family members of my father, who himself was a lawyer and very busy.
I went to school in Drohobycz and at the age of ten years we moved to Lemberg (Lviv or Lwov in Polish) where I went to the Hebraic High School.
3. What happened to your family during the war years?
On 1st September 1939 the city of Lviv was bombed by the Germans. We did not believe that it was war until we saw the lorries with dead and wounded people. Now we knew that we were at war!
As the Germans entered in the West and we were in the South-East of Poland, during the first one or two weeks we only heard on the radio and by the press about the advance of the German army and the atrocities being done by the Nazis.
We then decided that the men had to leave.
It was my father, my uncle and I who left Poland in the direction of Romania. At the border when we were crossing the bridge in a chaos due to massive bombing by the Germans, it happened that my father and I were in Romania and my uncle with the horse carriage and our belongings never arrived there.
It was the beginning of our life – my father's and mine – as refugees in Romania.
Half a year later we received - via a smuggler's service – a letter signed by all the family members encouraging us to return home. Lemberg was under Russian control, they felt safe and it was important that the whole family should be together.
I was a young person and very much tempted to go back, but my father, probably better informed than I was, decided not to do so. This wise decision saved our lives. No other family member survived!
From Romania I came with a youth transport to Israel (then Palestine). I studied there, did my military service and married my first wife Pnina with whom I had two children, Simon and Nava.
4. What can you tell us about your meeting with your second wife and about your children and grand-children?
In 1950/1951 I was sent as an acting director of the State of Israel Bonds on a mission to South America, with headquarter in Buenos Aires. I worked for many years in Argentina, where, after my divorce, I met my second wife Jacqueline with whom I had my son Michel.
With Jacqueline I had a wonderful marriage which lasted 53 years. She passed away in September 2010.
In the year 2000 I lost my oldest son Simon, who was a professor at the University and who died at the age of 49 years.
Today I enjoy being surrounded by my two grown-up children, my eight grandchildren (scattered all over the world: Australia, United States, Paris and Israel) and two great grandchildren in London and New York.
5. What are your main activities outside B'nai B'rith?
I am a builder/developer and have worked very much on an international level with headquarters in Munich.
Today I have two offices, one in Munich and one in Monaco.
6. What are your hobbies and interests other than B'nai B'rith?
Good literature, music and football and I still enjoy my daily work in the office.
7. When and why did you join B'nai B'rith?
When coming from Argentina to Munich, I found that the social and cultural life of the Jewish community was very poor compared to Buenos Aires.
Therefore I created a cultural club which I named Hebraica (same as the big Jewish institution in Buenos Aires).
Later on when I recovered from an operation in a Munich hospital, I was approached by the Director of B'nai B'rith Europe, Dr. Lutz Ehrlich from Basel, who had heard about our club and suggested that we enter the B'nai B'rith organisation. This was done in 1966 in a big, festive ceremony and under very dramatic circumstances.
8. What have been your main areas of interest in B'nai B'rith so far?
My main work was with the youth, help for the aged people, support of Israel and fight against anti-semitism.
I have been President of District 19, Continental Europe for eight years, Senior International Vice-President and member of the Board of Governors in Washington and am today an Honorary Life President of B'nai B'rith Europe.
Practically when people ask me today what I do for BB my answer is: “I am the wailing wall, the shock absorber and the trouble shooter of our organisation.”
9. What do you see as the basic problems of the organisation? What can we do about them?
B'nai B'rith has the strength of having lodges in many cities of the Western world and being represented there. This is a political asset which enables us to mobilize our members locally and worldwide in case of need.
A very big weakness is that – although many things are done – the information to the public outside does not reflect the amount of work being done.
Nowadays as the world situation has changed, I think we have to deal less with the structures and more with the problems which endanger our identity and safety.
10. Who or what has most influenced you in your life and in your B'nai B'rith activities?
My life was divided between my professional and social/ humanitarian activities. To keep the balance was not easy. It was my wife Jacqueline who actively supported and encouraged me in all my endeavours and by doing so has had a major influence.
In B'nai B'rith, I have had three big friends who have influenced me:
one was Philip KLUTZNIK, past International President of B'nai B'rith and Minister in the U.S. Government. The second one was Jack SPITZER, past International President, both in the U.S.A. The third one was Maître Paul JACOB in France, President of the B'nai B'rith District 19.
With their wisdom, experience and devotion to B'nai B'rith they have been models for me.
11. What do you consider to be the most significant event(s) to have happened to you in your life?
The escape from Poland to Israel.
The creation of the State of Israel, where I had the chance to assist as I was working for the first Minister of Foreign Affairs Moshee SHARETT and therefore was present at the Declaration of Independence.
12. What do you consider to be your greatest strength and your greatest weakness?
My greatest strength: the ability to organize and my persistence.
My weakness: too soft hearted, something which people sometimes try to abuse.