This week, my mother’s cousin Henry died peacefully at the age of 92. I worked with Henry’s wife Margot and his sons Mark and John to write a brief remembrance, which is below. Henry, we will miss you.
Henry J. Bamberger, a onetime refugee who became one of the most respected and trusted members of the Los Angeles business community, died Sept. 12, 2012 at UCLA Medical Center. Henry, who was boundlessly committed to both his business and his family, worked until the day before the stroke that ended his life.
Henry created Bamberger Business Management, which served some of the best-known names in Hollywood—a fact that is all the more impressive given his humble beginnings. Born Heinz Bamberger on Sept. 8, 1920 in Leipzig, Germany, and educated at a boarding school near Lausanne, Switzerland, Henry came to the United States fleeing the Nazis. He arrived nearly penniless at the age of 19, and while he never attended college, he put his talent for math to work, starting as a bookkeeper in a hardware store. In a city that trades in overhyped claims, dropped names and flamboyant style, Henry earned his clients through his iconoclastic modesty, sober judgment, dependability and unassailable integrity in a career that lasted 60 years. (Such was his modesty that he would not want the boldface names among his clients listed even here.)
His diligence was his trademark, even when he first met the girl who would become his wife as a young teenager in Switzerland. “I heard about him,” Margot remembers saying as a girl of perhaps 12. “He’s the one who makes copies of every note he ever writes,” a reference to his habit of making—and filing—carbon copies of his correspondence even in high school. Eccentricity became charm by the time they met again as adults in the United States, and soon relatives were advising her to marry him.
Before that could happen, war intervened; Henry was drafted in 1944, and served not in Europe, where his trilingualism in English, French and German would have served him well, but in the South Pacific. The war over, Henry returned to the United States, married his sweetheart, and built the family and the business that stand as the enduring testaments to his legacy.
Friends and relatives without exception speak of Henry as a man who acted with honor and decency at every moment and in every relationship. He was aware of and cared greatly about the feelings of every person at the table, and worked hard to solve problems and iron out conflicts. His kindness was his hallmark—yet he could not have achieved what he did in life if his niceness had not been balanced by a decisive edge.
Never was that truer than in what might have been his most improbable achievement, which came in his later years. The same diligence that led Henry to carbon-copy his letters as a teenager also allowed him to archive the property documents to the building that the Bamberger family owned in his hometown of Leipzig, which was appropriated by the Nazis in the nationwide anti-Jewish riot known as Kristallnacht. (The building housed the family-owned men’s clothing business Bamberger & Hertz.) In the 1990s, after East and West Germany reunified, and after 14 visits and a lengthy battle in the courts and the press, Henry won the return of the building to the family. In keeping with his modesty, the Holocaust Museum’s account does not record Henry’s name. The plaque honoring the family, which now stands on that building, is pictured below.
Today, the many who loved and admired Henry mourn the loss of a man of profound humility and goodness.
Henry is survived by his wife Margot, sons John and Mark (married to Polly), and grandchildren Jacklyn, Matthew, and Caroline, and his black Labrador Duchess.