David Mitzner - 1915-2016

David Mitzner whose indomitable spirit and unconquerable will to survive forged a remarkable life as business leader, philanthropist, innovator, and devoted family patriarch passed away on September 23, 2016 in Houston, Texas. He was 101.

David was born April 11, 1915 in Warsaw, Poland, barely 6 months following the outbreak of the First World War. David grew up in a prominent and tight knit religious family, attending the prestigious Tachkemoni day school. In the pre-war years, David was part of his family’s sweater manufacturing business and was well known as being a trustworthy and honorable young businessman. When World War II broke out, the area where the Mitzner family and the majority of other Warsaw Jews lived would fall under German Control. David continued doing business to support his family despite the increasingly dangerous nature of the world around him, and on numerous occasions, he narrowly escaped apprehension by the Gestapo. In 1940, he was apprehended by the co-occupying Soviet forces. Having no papers for fear of Nazi capture, he was accused of "anti-Soviet activities." After being given an indeterminable length sentence in the Soviet GULAG (labor camp) in Siberia, he was told by the camp guards “Here you are going to live, and here you are going to die”. After spending 8 years in harsh Siberian camps, he was finally released in 1948. His entire family passed away in the Holocaust, except for one sister, Rosia, who survived the Majdanek Concentration Camp and emigrated to Canada following the war. When David made his way back to Warsaw he found the city decimated, and knew that he had to flee to the United States to make sure he didn’t end up permanently under a communist regime. On April 11, 1949, his 34th birthday, David arrived with $17 in his pocket to New York, and as he called it, the Land of Golden Opportunity.

After arriving in the United States, he slowly began rebuilding his life. Soon, David started a hosiery business and through creative hard work became one of the largest manufacturers of Fishnet Stockings in the United States. In the time he spent away from growing his business, he met Ruth (Buchbinder), the daughter of a prestigious rabbinical family, and they married in 1953. In 1972, after almost 20 years in the hosiery and textile business, David found his true business passion, real estate, and soon after founded the RIDA Development Corporation. Realizing there was greater opportunity for him in Texas, David and his family moved from New York to Houston in the early 1980’s and over time he and his family became pillars of the Houston Community.

While initially his investment in real estate started with office buildings and retail centers in Houston, over time his portfolio grew both domestically and internationally, and most importantly to him, a return to his native Poland. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, David took his two sons on a Polish Heritage trip, and toward the conclusion of the trip stopped by an office building and realized there was much development needed for the country to rebuild and thrive. So at the age of 80, he started splitting his time between Houston and Warsaw, developing and acquiring office, retail, and industrial projects that would lead him and his partners to become among the largest private real estate owners in the country. For David, it wasn’t about the financial opportunity, but rather redeveloping the infrastructure of his homeland so it would have a bright future. His company, Apollo-RIDA Poland, of which he was CEO, became well known for its innovative developments which led the Wall Street Journal in 2006 to profile David on the front page in a feature cover story. While achieving all of these things abroad, as Chairman of RIDA Development he acquired what would become ChampionsGate, a major mixed-use development of 1400 acres west of Walt Disney World. The land over time, would be developed to include the 730 room Omni Orlando, as well as office, residential, and commercial uses; a development he foresaw over thirty years ago. In addition, under his stewardship RIDA Development would go on to become a premier Conference Hotel Developer developing the 1,400 room Hilton Orlando, the 1,000 room Marriott Marquis Houston, and the 1,500 room Gaylord Rockies. In 2004, David co-authored his autobiography "Nesim (miracles) all Around Me" which chronicled his amazing life journey. The book was updated on the occasion of his 100th birthday in 2015.

There was so much more to David Mitzner’s life than just his business accomplishments. He often remarked that business and the financial benefits that often accrued was a means to an end rather than the end itself. In his view, the end result of material success is helping others, most notably those less fortunate. His involvement in philanthropic causes, particularly his efforts to remember the lives lost in the Holocaust, supporting the Jewish people, and all those less privileged in the United States, Europe, and Israel. David Mitzner was a well-respected benefactor of countless organizations, including the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Shaare Zedek Medical Center, and Yad Vashem at which he helped endow the Warsaw Ghetto Plaza. Locally, he was active serving as the Chairman of the President’s Circle of Israel Bonds, United Orthodox Synagogues of Houston, of which the building bears his family name, and the Mitzner Family High School at the Robert M. Beren Academy. For all of his work, locally, nationally, and internationally, he received an honorary degree from Yeshiva University in 2006.

Of all the many honors and awards, that he received it was fitting that his last major honor meant so much to him. In November 2014, at the age of 99, David Mitzner received the Order of Polonia Restituta (Polish Medal of Honor), for all of his efforts in helping rebuild and revitalize the economy of Poland following the collapse of the Iron Curtain.

Despite discrimination and the horrors of the Holocaust, David’s life stands as a testimony to the heroism and tenacity of the survivor community. David was a very proud American, and after meeting Ronald Reagan he became an active supporter of conservative and international freedom causes. He was also an ardent Zionist, and supported many institutions in the Jewish Homeland. In his free time, he loved to travel, follow the stock market, and watch sporting events, especially soccer and wrestling.

To David, even with all of his achievements, his proudest legacy and accomplishment was his family. David is survived by his two sons Jacob and Ira, daughters-in-law Marilyn and Mindy, and his five grandchildren and their spouses, and great grandchildren. He is predeceased by his wife Ruth Buchbinder Mitzner and sister Rosia Grossman. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations in David’s memory be made to M.D. Anderson Hospital, Robert M. Beren Academy, United Orthodox Synagogues, Yad Vashem, or Yeshiva University.