ORIGINS AND THE TURBULENCE OF THE WAR
Max Mazin Brodovka was born on June 7, 1923, in Horodzeij, a small village of only 900 inhabitants, most of them Jews; what was known in that part of the world as a shtetl. The area, which was annexed by Poland a year before his birth, is currently part of Belarus.
His native language was Russian, as his mother, Zofia Brodovka, was originally from Latvia.
His father, Wolf Mazin, with whom he spoke in Yiddish, was the owner of a small linen-exporting family business.
Max attended secondary school in Vilnius, nowadays the capital of Lithuania.
In 1939, as a result of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the Soviet army invaded the eastern part of Poland, which put the Mazin family in threat of deportation to the USSR for being considered ‘capitalists’. To avoid this, at sixteen years of age, Max started working alongside his older brother at a shoe factory in the nearest city to his shtetl.
In 1941, when the Nazi army launched Operation Barbarossa and invaded the entirety of Poland, Max and his brother escaped from Baranovich, where they were working, crossing the Ural Mountains into Siberia.
On June 17, 1942, all the inhabitants of Horodzeij were forced to dig a mass grave and were shot and murdered en masse by the Germans just outside their shtetl. Among them were Max’s parents and his younger sister Ida.
Max spent most of the war in Chelyabinsk, Siberia, where Stalin focalised the Soviet arms industry for the war against Germany. He found a job in a large weapon factory, where he quickly rose to the position of chief accountant.
Towards the end of the war, he returned to Poland and soon after, at just 22 years of age, the Polish government appointed him as the highest economic official in the region of Krakow.
On January 14, 1945, he entered the city of Krakow with the Polish liberation forces to take charge of the city.
On January 27, 1945, the Soviet army liberated Auschwitz. On the following day, Max entered the camp to see the horror with his own eyes. He would never speak of what he saw that day.
A year later, after concluding that Communism was becoming ever harsher and more hostile towards the Jews, and despite holding considerable power, he decided to escape illegally from Poland to the West. His flight caused a national scandal.
After a hazardous journey, he ended up at a refugee camp in Germany. From there, he hoped to escape again and cross the border into Belgium, where an uncle on his mother’s side, one of the very few survivors from his family, was living.
However, he was arrested without documentation while crossing the border and subsequently jailed in Belgium. In prison, he destroyed the diary that he had been keeping since the beginning of the war, in order to avoid being identified and sent back behind the Iron Curtain.
His uncle, who was hidden by the Resistance during the war, got him out of prison and took him home to Ghent.
Max began his life in the free world as a traveling salesman, peddling woman’s clothes, before devising larger projects that led him to prosper in Belgium.
ARRIVAL IN SPAIN
He first visited Spain on a business trip in 1950 and was so impressed by the country that he chose to make it his home.
He didn’t know anybody in Spain and didn’t speak Spanish. He did, however, know seven other languages: Russian, Polish, Yiddish, German, Hebrew, French and English. Yet, despite being acquired last, Spanish would become the most important language of his life.
Max settled in Madrid and soon introduced himself into the society of the time, establishing friendships and business dealings.
REBUILDING JUDAISM IN SPAIN
In 1952, he became vice-president of the Jewish community, made up of barely a hundred people. It was not officially recognised and didn’t have the right to worship.
From that moment on, he would become the architect of the reconstruction of Jewish life in Spain.
In 1960, he married Atara Mor, who had served as a sergeant in the Israeli army before becoming an Israeli beauty queen. They would go on to have four children together.
In 1961, Max Mazin and Father Vicente Serrano founded the Judeo-Christian Friendship Association (AJCF), marking the first time that Spain witnessed a shared initiative between the two religions in 500 years—since the Expulsion of the Jews during the Inquisition.
The association’s objective was to “intensify the spiritual rapprochement between the two faiths; abolish bigoted stereotypes, prejudices and harmful notions that have been preserved in texts, as well as prejudiced family traditions, proverbs and popular idioms; promote a reciprocal understanding of the unifying common interests; and endeavour to ensure that mutual recognition and permanent contact result in fraternal affection between the two groups…” (founding letter of the AJCF.).
The work to improve relations between Jews and Catholics, especially the views towards Jews within the Church and clergy, would also be important in Latin America, which had 400,000 Jews and societies that sought spiritual and religious leadership from a clergy largely educated in Spain. It was the first time since the Expulsion that Jews and Christians met in Spain in an official manner with the blessing of the Church.
One of the association’s early achievements was the removal from school catechisms of denigrating references to Jews and slanderous accusations of ritual murders of children supposedly carried out by Jews, which could still be seen in the texts of the time.
In 1965, after being granted two audiences by then Head of State Francisco Franco, Max Mazin received a document that constituted the legal recognition of the Jewish Community in Spain, repealing de facto the 1942 Edict of Expulsion of the Jews.
Four hundred and seventy-six years after the ‘Catholic Monarchs’ expelled the Jews from Spain, Max Mazin obtained a written revocation of this decree from the Head of State. The document from the Ministry of Justice, addressed to Max Mazin, acknowledged the recognition of the “Israelite Community of Madrid Non-Catholic Denominational Association”. It included, just as Max Mazin had repeatedly requested, an explicit reference to the “derogation of the Royal Decree of March 31, 1492 by the Constitution of June 5, 1869 and the subsequent legislation as the base for the establishment of Hebraic Communities in Spain”.
In 1966, Max Mazin secured the State of Israel’s recognition of Spanish diplomat Ángel Sanz Briz as “Righteous among the Nations”, the highest honour given by the Jewish State. This acknowledged his actions to save the lives of thousands of Hungarian Jews during the Second World War by granting them Spanish passports, an effort that had until then been repudiated, forgotten, and silenced by the Spanish government.
In 1968, as President of the Jewish Community, Max Mazin built the first synagogue erected in Spain since 1492. The inauguration was celebrated by the international Jewish community as a landmark moment in the painful history of Judaism in Spain. Until then, Madrid’s Jews had prayed in a small rented apartment and were obliged to request permission from the authorities before each religious service.
Max Mazin was President of the Jewish Community of Madrid until 1970, when he stood down after 18 years of service to the institution. He held the position of Honorary President until his death.
In 1973, a plot by the Palestinian terror organisation Black September to kidnap him was uncovered on the same day that an Israeli secret service agent was murdered in broad daylight in Madrid.
In 1977, after a process that lasted seven long years, he obtained governmental authorisation to inscribe the Jewish organisation B´nai B´rith in the Registry of Associations and became its president in Spain. It is the largest and oldest Jewish international human rights organisation, with hundreds of thousands of members in 58 different countries, a delegation in the European Union, non-governmental membership status in the United Nations and representation at UNESCO.
In 1979, Max Mazin set up and cofounded the Association of Spain-Israel Friendship, along with Antonio Hernández-Gil, President of the Spanish Parliament from 1975 to 1979; Miguel Herrero y Rodriguez de Miñón from the Unión de Centro Democrático party (UCD); Enrique Múgica Herzog of the Socialist Party (PSOE); José María Martín Patino, Pro-Vicar of the Madrid-Alcalá Archdiocese; and Antonio López-Nieto. Seeking the normalization of diplomatic relations with Israel, the Friendship’s foundational objective was “to serve as a driving force and catalyst within Spanish society to address the problems affecting both peoples and their potential for collaboration”. In 1980, the historian and anthropologist Julio Caro Baroja accepted the presidency. Max Mazin, José Mario Armero, Enrique Múgica and Ricardo de la Cierva assumed the vice-presidencies; Jesús Pérez Bilbao was appointed secretary general; and Miguel Herrero y Rodriguez de Miñón, Fernando Múgica Herzog, Jorge Trias Sagnier, José Luis Lacave, and Pedro J. Ramírez sat in the board. In 1983, writer and Nobel Prize winner Camilo José Cela took over the presidency, holding the position until his death in 2002.
The goal of establishing diplomatic relations between Spain and Israel was achieved in 1986.
From the 1960s onwards, Max Mazin had acted as the de facto Israeli ambassador in Spain and as the de facto Spanish ambassador to Israel. He was arguably the most visible link between the two countries until 1986.
In 1980, he miraculously avoided a terrorist attack claimed by the Palestinian terrorist organisation Abu Nidal. His neighbour, Adolfo Cotelo, was tragically murdered when wrongly identified by the terrorists as Max Mazin, who was the real target.
In 1986, he organised the lawsuit against Leon Degrelle, a Waffen-SS officer who had taken refuge in Spain and had been condemned to death in absentia in Belgium. Working alongside lawyer Jorge Trías Sagnier and Holocaust survivor Violeta Friedman, who sued Degrelle for his statements denying the Holocaust, they won the trial in Spain’s Constitutional Court in 1991. The ruling set a legal precedent that established the right to honour for groups of people, not just individuals.
Among the activities that the State of Israel recognizes Max Mazin throughout the years are his interventions in the clandestine evacuation of Moroccan Jews after Moroccan independence, the rescue of Egyptian Jews in coordination with the Spanish government during Nasser’s dictatorship and the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, and the support provided in the search for Nazi criminals.
In 2005, he was named Honorary President of Yad Vashem Spain.
In 2007, alongside nine other Holocaust survivors, he collected the Prince of Asturias Prize for Concord, awarded to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum of Israel.
BUSINESS ACTIVITIES AND THE CREATION OF EMPLOYER ASSOCIATIONS
His main business activities took place in the real estate, financial, and industrial sectors. He founded several companies that were ground-breaking and pioneering in Spain, such as Renta Inmobiliaria, with the first publicly traded real estate funds, and the first European World Trade Center, Iberia Mart. He also founded one of the largest hotel chains in Spain, Tryp Hotels.
In 1976, during the first year of the transition to democracy, he was one of the founders of the Asociación Empresarial Independiente (AEI), the first organization of businessmen in the country. Max Mazin became its national president. Soon afterwards, he was a founding member of the Agrupación Empresarial Independiente de Madrid (AEIM), the precursor to the modern-day Confederación Empresarial Independiente de Madrid (CEIM). It was the first employers’ association in Spain, which until then had no representative bodies.
In 1977, he was co-founder and vice-president of the Confederación Española de Organizaciones Empresariales (CEOE).
In 1977-78, he became president of the International Relations Committee of the CEOE.
In 1985, he was named honorary president of CEIM, a position he held until his passing.
From 2006 until his resignation in 2010, he was a board member of Fomento de Construcciones y Contratas, a leading Spanish construction company.
PROMOTING EDUCATION AND OPPORTUNITY
Max was a member of the Social Council of the Complutense University of Madrid from its establishment in 1985 until he stepped down in 2010 due to health reasons. He represented CEIM in this participatory body, supervising the university’s activities and performance in order to improve the quality of education, strengthen its research capacity and support social, economic, and cultural progress.
In 1988, Max was named vice-president of the Marc Rich Foundation, which was presided by Camilo José Cela. It worked for the advancement of literature and the arts, collaborating in the restoration of symbolic monuments of Madrid such as the fountain of Neptune and the equestrian statue of Philip IV.
In 1991, Max was named president of the CEIM Foundation, a position he held until he stood down due to illness shortly before his passing.
Presiding the CEIM Foundation, he envisaged and established the first program in Spain for gifted children, with the help of Israeli experts. In 1996, the CEIM Foundation signed an agreement with the Community of Madrid’s Department of Education and Culture to begin a study aimed at identifying gifted students in the region. Some months later, the Spanish Ministry of Education and Culture joined the project.
The Extracurricular Enrichment Program for gifted students was launched during the 1999-2000 school year with 157 students. The initiative has grown steadily and now counts with over 2,000 pupils.
Two Saturdays per month from October to May, the gifted students enrolled in the program have six different study centres at their disposal throughout the region of Madrid. They are offered a variety of activities specifically designed to encourage their development and further their skills. On a voluntary basis and without cost, the students participate in workshops to further their social, artistic, linguistic and literary skills, as well as scientific and technological projects. These are complemented by regular outings to cultural and scientific centres and museums. Additionally, training, counselling and guidance is offered to both the faculty and families involved.
The program is led by a team that includes specialists and teachers working in both primary and secondary education.
In 2013, following the example of the CEIM Foundation’s innovative initiative in Spain, the European Union approved a resolution to identify gifted students and provide them with complementary education.
From 1991 to 2002, Max served as a trustee of the Camilo José Cela Foundation in Iria Flavia, Galicia, which is dedicated to conserving the works and legacy of Camilo José Cela.
From 2000 to 2010, he sat on the board of the Camilo José Cela University in Villanueva de la Cañada, Madrid.
Max Mazin passed away in Madrid on May 17, 2012, at 89 years of age.
In 1999, he was awarded the Order of Civil Merit (Orden del Mérito Civil), at the request of the Jewish Community.
In 2005, he received the Grand Cross of the Order of Civil Merit (La Gran Cruz de la Orden del Mérito Civil), at the request of CEIM for his accomplishments in the economic realm.
In 2009, he was granted the Grand Cross of the Order of the 2nd of May (La Gran Cruz de la Orden del Dos de Mayo) by the regional government of the Community of Madrid.