The son of Holocaust survivors, Elan Steinberg preferred to keep his family history private. But the fierce strategist and former leader of the World Jewish Congress was clearly motivated by it, according to observers, as he relentlessly pushed to obtain restitution for Holocaust survivors and strove to expose the Nazi past of former U.N. Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim.
Steinberg, 59, died Friday in New York after a brief struggle with cancer, said Menachem Rosensaft, a vice president of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants. Steinberg was also a vice president of the organization.
“One of the great Jewish activists of the past decades left us today,” Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, said Friday in a statement. “He was probably the most gifted communication professional in the Jewish organizational world.”
After joining the World Jewish Congress in 1978 as its United Nations representative, Steinberg quickly rose to become its executive director, key spokesman and primary behind-the-scenes strategist.
He achieved what was arguably his greatest triumph in the late 1990s, when a campaign he orchestrated against Swiss banks resulted in more than $1 billion in compensation for victims of the Holocaust and their descendants.
“There is no denying that the Swiss were the bankers and launderers for Hitler’s Germany,” Steinberg told The Times in 1997.