David Lowenthal, a longtime Pittsburgh resident who played a major role in the resettlement of Holocaust survivors in Israel and later became a successful industrialist, died Wednesday at his Oakland home of complications from stomach cancer. He was 84.
Mr. Lowenthal's work with Jewish refugees -- he was in charge of defense for the ship Exodus, immortalized by the 1960 Otto Preminger movie, and helped purchase the Pan York in 1947 that ultimately allowed 8,000 Jews to immigrate -- earned him admiration throughout Israel and the United States.
The Pan York was denied entrance to Israel by British authorities; when the ship docked in Cyprus, Mr. Lowenthal was arrested by the British, imprisoned and beaten.
He escaped to Israel, and served as a member of the Haganah, the underground Jewish military in pre-state Israel. During Israel's war of independence in 1948, he fought in the battle for Beer Sheva.
He served under Meir Amit, who later became the head of Israel's intelligence service, Mossad.
"I remember you as a big Zionist," Mr. Amit wrote him recently, "and always ready to do things in order to help Israel. You have gained many friends in our country; they will never forget you and your positive approach."
Mr. Lowenthal was a close friend of Israel's founder, David Ben-Gurion, and of Prime Minister Golda Meir.
Mr. Lowenthal was forced to be an independent thinker while still young. He was born in Poland in 1921, and he and his 7-year-old sister traveled alone to the United States in 1932 to join their father, following the death of their mother. The only information surviving about the siblings' arduous trip was that Mr. Lowenthal spent the entire sea passage playing craps with the ship's crew.
As a teenager, he suffered from tuberculosis, and spent four years in a New York sanitarium, primarily reading. He later called those years his "informal education" because he never attended college.
His career began with the Mount Vernon Bridge Co. in Ohio, which he managed. In 1955, along with two other investors, he bought the dormant Apollo Steel Co. plant in Apollo, Armstrong County, and restarted its steel production.
Two years later, he sold company stock to help finance the creation of Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corp.
Known as NUMEC, and staffed by former scientists from Westinghouse and General Electric, it developed the first nuclear fuel for use in commercial reactors, a critical manufacturing step that led to further successes in powering nuclear submarines and power plants.
The company was investigated by the FBI and CIA over large quantities of weapons-grade uranium that were unaccounted for during the 1960s. It later was sold to Atlantic Richfield.
Mr. Lowenthal was never an employee of NUMEC, but the company's former president, Zalman M. Shapiro of Point Breeze, often consulted with him.
"He had lots of innovative ideas, and he tried them," said Mr. Shapiro.
Forty years ago, Mr. Lowenthal founded the country's first computer automated stock brokerage management system. Most recently, he developed a new technology to lower electricity costs in grocery stores that is being tested by Giant Eagle.
He is survived by a son, Mark, of Santa Monica, Calif.
A memorial gathering will be held at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Concordia Club, 4024 O'Hara St., Oakland. Interment will be private.
Steve Levin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1919.