William (Bill) Konar was the youngest of four children born to a family living in the city of Radom, Poland, about 70 miles south of Warsaw. His father died when he was four years old, and he lived with his mother, sister, and two older brothers until the Germans invaded Poland in 1939.
At first the Jews of Radom were forced into work for the Germans, then into ghettos, and finally into separation, with the women and children taken away and the men left in the ghettos. Bill, though only 12 at the time, stayed with the men, including his older brothers Herszek (Harry) and Moshe (Morris). They never again saw their mother, sister, her baby, or her husband, who had refused to leave his family.
By the summer of 1944 Russia was advancing on the eastern front, and the Germans forced the Radom Jews, including the three Konar brothers, on a march of more than 100 miles, then herded them into railroad boxcars said to be headed for work camps in Germany.
One of the stops was Auschwitz, where the weak and elderly were sent to gas chambers and the others sent back to the train. All three brothers survived the Auschwitz selection and ended up at a work camp near Stuttgart, Germany. Bill was helped by a cook in the camp who let him take food for himself and his brothers. On May 7, 1945, when Bill was just 15 years old, the three Konar brothers were liberated.
Right after the war Bill got into a school run by a relief agency and began to learn English. In 1946 he joined a boatload of orphans who were brought to the U.S. and then disbursed to families around the county. Bill was sent to Rochester, where he attended Benjamin Franklin High School for two years and met Michael Telesca, who would become a lifelong friend and a federal judge.
After graduation he worked distributing health and beauty supplies, eventually building a chain of discount drug stores called Clinton Merchandising. Clinton became a public company in 1968, and later merged with another chain, Consumer Value Stores, to form CVS. Bill worked as a senior Vice President of CVS for nine years while starting a real estate business in Rochester that became Konar Properties.
Along with his wife Sheila, Bill was also a generous philanthropist, supporting numerous organizations locally, nationally, and globally. He was a member of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Founder’s Society and served on its governing board. He was a trustee of Nazareth College, a supporter of the University of Rochester Medical Center, and a member of the Board of Governors of Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
William Konar died on June 18, 2015 at the age of 85. He is remembered for his sharp intellect, quick sense of humor, fairness, and generosity.
Barrette, Lori. “University Mourns the Death of William B. Konar,” URMC Newsroom, June 26, 2015.
Loomis, Carol J. “Everything in History Was Against Them,” Fortune Magazine, April 13, 1998.
Rochester Business Hall of Fame, Class of 2016