Family, Faith, Fortune, and the Empire of Olympia & York

The Reichmanns by Anthony Bianco

This tremendous, all-encompassing biography chronicles one of the most powerful and secretive family dynasties of the 20th century.

The Reichmanns descend from Hungarian-Jewish scions who, according to legend, purposely took the name Reichmann (“rich man”) in hopes that it would prove prophetic. The Reichmann elders, Samuel and Renee, were forced to flee Hungary as the Nazis approached, and settled first in Tangier. Bianco lays to rest some of the more noxious stories of their life there–notably that Samuel traded currency with the Nazis–and reveals the extent to which their charitable contributions aided Jews in concentration camps.

Using the family fortune, Renee was able to obtain lists of Jews deported to ghettos or camps, and personally organized thousands of packages of food to be sent to them. The Reichmann children—Eva, Edward, Louis, Albert, Paul, and Ralph—inherited this sense of moral obligation and dedication to business.

Following the war the family moved to Canada, where they established themselves as a powerful, wealthy, and deeply devout Jewish dynasty. After cornering the ceramic-tile market, Paul Reichmann formed Olympia & York, which owned buildings internationally and would, by the 1980s, become the biggest landlord in Manhattan. Paul, described by a colleague as “the Einstein of buildings,” had ever more grandiose dreams for his real-estate empire. But the vast, ill-fated Canary Wharf project in London and the precipitous decline in Manhattan real estate cost the family billions; Olympia & York failed in 1992.

A complex loan collapse could not be repaired—one restructuring meeting was attended by 400 bankers from 91 banks—and Paul Reichmann eventually, if not gracefully, bowed out of the US operation (which reportedly is functioning again). The family’s heritage is the real story here, and Bianco’s prose is captivating. Fascinating and always smart, this is a stylish and intriguing look at the powerful intricacies of family, religion, and wealth.

THE REICHMANNS: Family, Faith, Fortune, and the Empire of Olympia & York by Anthony Bianco (Times/Henry Holt; ISBN: 0-8129-2140-2)

 

Rebecca Kurson

Rebecca Kurson writes about literature, pop culture, television, science fiction and music. Her work has appeared in Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Observer, The Federalist and Rodale's Organic Life.

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