NEW YORK: Edgar Bronfman Sr., the former Seagram liquor company executive and ex-World Jewish Congress head who helped obtain restitution for Holocaust victims from Swiss banks, has died, the family foundation said.
The 84-year-old Bronfman, a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, died of natural causes at his home in New York on Saturday, the Samuel Bronfman Foundation said.
As the head of the WJC between 1979 and 2007, Bronfman obtained more than one billion dollars in restitution for Holocaust victims and their heirs from Swiss banks.
Bronfman "was an ardent campaigner against anti-Semitism and all forms of racism" who "advocated for a better understanding between different faiths and peoples," said WJC President Ronald Lauder.
For decades "Edgar was Diaspora Jewry's undisputed leader. He was a household name wherever he went," Lauder said in a statement.
Bronfman was the son of Samuel Bronfman, a Jew who fled the pogroms of eastern Europe to Canada and made a fortune producing liquor at distilleries across the border during the US prohibition era.
The Bronfmans bought the Seagram distillery, and Edgar Bronfman was a company senior executive in the 1950s and 1960s, and became chairman when his father died in 1971.
Under his leadership Seagram made millions by expanding its investments into other companies such as oil and gas giant Conoco and chemical giant Du Pont.
Seagram was later sold off to buyers that included French group Vivendi in 2000.
Bronfman's interest in Judaism was bolstered by a 1970 trip he took to the Soviet Union as part of a delegation advocating for greater rights for Soviet Jews.
Bronfman was "a titan of industry that dedicated himself fully to advocating, advancing and encouraging the Jewish people," wrote Dana Raucher, executive director of The Samuel Bronfman Foundation.
He was "a giant among Jewish leaders" who was "deeply committed to making Judaism relevant to all those who were seeking it. He sought to build a big tent, open for vigorous debate, impassioned questioning, and full of joy."