The four fabulous lives of Samuel Zacks


The four fabulous lives of Samuel Zacks


The four fabulous lives of Samuel Zacks


High finance, international intrigue, world-wide pursuit of art treasures, storybook romance — this Canadian multimillionaire has explored them all with equal zest and equal success

WHEN HE WALKS down Bay Street. Toronto, the midway of Canadian finance, Samuel Jacob Zacks attracts little attention. He is a short, chunky, fifty-five-year-old man who looks as if he might have done fairly well out of a small wholesale business. Although he wears expensive clothes, their dark color and sober cut do little to distinguish him from the passing crowd. Yet if E. Phillips Oppenheim were alive today he'd be tempted to use Zacks' story as the theme for a thriller about high finance, international intrigue, romantic love and the pursuit of fabulous art treasures.

Zacks made his first million dollars at twenty-three, lost it at twenty-five, recovered it at twenty-seven and since then has multiplied it many times. As a militant Zionist. Zacks played a gripping role in the diplomatic negotiations and gun-running operations that led up to the foundation of Israel. In the course of these activities he w'ooed and wed a fascinating heroine of the World War II French underground. She and Zacks, during the last ten years, have built up one of the most arresting and valuable private art collections in North America.

Sam and Ayala Zacks arc taciturn about many episodes in their past.

It is known, however, that he was a member of a secret organization of North American millionaires which supported the Israelis w'ith funds and arms in the 1946-49 war against the Arabs and that, in Canada, he took an active part in securing and despatching guns to Israel in defiance of an embargo on arms shipments to the Middle East.

It is known that Mrs. Zacks in 1942 was assigned by an underground organization to carry to London plans of German army deployment along the Riviera, and that in 1944 she returned to southern France in an assault landing craft as a liaison officer between Allied invasion forces and the French Maquis.

In the life led by the Zacks today there is no hint of their colorful past. From his commodious office on Bay Street, Toronto. Sam Zacks watches his interests in many Canadian companies. His heaviest investments are in furniture, textiles, plastics and real estate. Ayala Zacks entertains a circle of friends that includes artists, writers and scholars, diplomats and industrialists. The link between the Zacks and their cronies is a common interest in art. Mrs. Zack says: “Sam and I believe that art is the only universal language.”

Visitors entering the Zacks’ home — a spacious apartment on Avenue Road, Toronto — are confronted with an Aladdin’s Cave of paintings, carvings, objets d’art and antiques. One visitor, Frederick Varley, the Canadian painter. on seeing canvases by such masters as Picasso, Matisse, Utrillo, Modigliani, Renoir, Dufy, Chagall and Braque, said: “What a marvellous collection of prints.” On being told that the paintings were originals Varley exclaimed: “What? In Toronto?”


Other Torontonians are astonished at the Zacks’ collection of bronzes, granites and marbles by sculptors of the rank of Jacob Epstein, Henry Moore and Barbara Hcpworth.

Among their modern European works the Zacks place figures and pictures by ancient Africans, Polynesians and Asians and by American Indian and Eskimo sculptors and painters to illustrate their theory that nineteenthand twentieth-century schools ol art owe much to the influence of primitive genius.

The furnishings of the Zacks’ apartment are striking. A beautiful oak refectory table supporting a selection of bronze nudes was used at meal times four hundred years ago by Italian monks. A heavy fruitwood table of exquisite symmetry, used to display primitive carvings, was fashioned by Chinese cabinet makers during the Ming dynasty between our fourteenth and seventeenth centuries.

For several years this table stood in New York’s Metropolitan Museum ol Fine Arts. Its American owner, who did not want it to go into a private collection, placed it there in the hope that some patron would buy it lor the Metropolitan. Much to the relief of the Zacks, who coveted the table, no patron came loiward. When the owner of the table died the Zacks heard that his widow was ready to sell it to a private collector. 1 hey llcw down to see her, arriving a few minutes ahead of other collectors who were equally anxious to buy. The widow accepted the Zacks offer of many thousands of dollars.

The business of snapping masterpieces from under the noses of competing collectors exercises the Zacks’ vigilance. They read catalogues sent to them by scores of dealers all over the world, pump curators of museums and art galleries for tips about what’s coming up for sale and make frequent excursions to the studios of leading CONTINUED ON RAGE 68




The Zacks won't put a price on these beautiful works from their collection — assembled here especially for Maclean's — but their combined market value would probably be about $2 million.

Continued from page 18

The four fabulous lives of Samuel Zacks

painters and sculptors in Europe and North America. They have bought pictures directly from many renowned contemporary impressionists including Dufy and Matisse.

Mrs. Zacks says: “Sometimes I take off for Europe at a few hours’ notice when we get word that some picture or carving we would like to buy is coming up for sale.” When they were in Paris last summer, the Zacks heard that half a dozen important Italian classical paintings were being offered by a private owner in Rome. Zacks got an option on the pictures and then arranged with a Roman expert to check their authenticity. The expert failed to carry out the job and did not advise the Zacks of his omission until the day the option was due to expire. Fearing they might lose the pictures to another collector, Zacks and his wife chartered an aircraft, flew to Rome, picked up another art expert and taxied out to the villa in which the pictures were housed. Much to the chagrin of the Zacks — and the owner — the art expert decided that the pictures were fakes.

Sometimes the Zacks discover that European governments are reluctant to let them export art treasures. In cases of this kind Sam Zacks employs diplomacy. Once, he discovered that the French government would not allow him to take a marble Grecian head out of France. He went to the Louvre, the historic French gallery, and asked the curator if there was any specimen of art that he desired, but for which he had no funds to pay. The curator named an Egyptian cave mural. Zacks bought the mural for the Louvre and in gratitude the French authorities permitted him to take back to Canada the Grecian head he coveted.

While they collect avidly, the Zacks’ motives are unselfish. “One day,” says Zacks, “we intend to divide the collection between art galleries in Canada and Israel.”

At Tel Aviv, Israel, the Zacks have built a spacious house, two doors from the home of their friend Prime Minister David Ben Gurion. The three upper floors are laid out as an art gallery which one day will be open to the public, and Zacks’ pictures are already beginning to fill it.

At Hazor, in Israel, the Zacks are sponsoring a museum beside archeological excavations of one of King Solomon’s cities. The museum will house carvings, pottery, weapons and other artifacts removed from the diggings and will serve as a research centre.

Zacks, a tough, proud Jew, sees no incongruity in his dual loyalty to Israel and Canada. He inherited his zeal for Zionism from his father, Akivah, who emigrated from Russia in the Nineties and settled in Kingston, Ont. According to family friends, Akivah Zacks never forgot the indignities and frustrations he had suffered as a Jew in a Russian village. He was not cut out for easy assimilation into the Canadian scene. He clung to the dress and traditions of his faith and brought up his three sons and two daughters in the

same spirit. “There can be no doubt,” says Rabbi Reuben Slonim of Toronto, “that in those early days, in a small city like Kingston, the Zacks family had more experiences of anti-Semitism.”

At first Akivah Zacks made his living by selling women's and children's garments. His wife Dora kept open house for all passing Jews in need of food and shelter. Yet through thrift and shrewdness. Akivah and Dora prospered and eventually built their own home, bought several other houses as an investment and began to acquire stocks.

Sam Zacks, the youngest son. who was born in Kingston in 1904, recalls: “My father made me go to Hebrew classes after public school. I used to get mad because I wanted to play baseball or football with the other kids. But I’m glad now. Hebrew made me a better Jew.”

Sam Zacks was a prodigious student, especially brilliant in mathematics. “When [’was about twelve,” he says, “my father used to take me to a broker's office to watch the stock prices. I was not bewildered. I soon realized that buying and selling stocks is an easy way to make a living.”

Zacks graduated from high school at fifteen and from Queen's University at nineteen. He look a post-graduate course in economics at Harvard. Throughout his college years he supported himself by selling automobiles, fountain pens and aluminumware during his vacations.

A million lost and won again

In 1925, when he was twenty-one, he got a job as an advertising salesman and bond market columnist on The Financial Post. “The job gave me contacts among brokers,” says Zacks. “I started playing the market and within two years I'd made myself fifty thousand bucks.”

Zacks resigned from The Financial Post in 1927, when he was twenty-three, joined the first of a series of stock broking firms he was to work for, and continued his personal speculations. "By the end of 1927,” says Zacks. “1 was worth a million dollars. But I was too young. I couldn’t hold onto it. In 1928 I lost nearly every penny. Then, shortly before the crash in 1929. I went short on the market — betting that slock prices would fall — and got my million back again.”

During the early Thirties Zacks continued as a stock broker, specializing in selling gold mine shares. “His methods were not always approved by more conservative financiers,” says a close friend, “but he only played the game as others played it.”

Zacks did well out of gold. "When times are bad,” he says, “gold is good. Capital flies to gold. Gold prices rise. The miners’ wages are low. If you have a good gold mine you can't lose.” Zacks “brought in” six good gold mines in the Red Lake area of Ontario and became a power in the mining industry.

To inspect promising claims he trudged the northern bush diligently.

One autumn in the middle Thirties he listened, when other Bay Street moguls turned a deaf ear, to an ailing old prospector named Bonny Leitch who pleaded for funds to develop an Ontario claim.

Accompanied by two other mining men, Russ Cryderman and Karl Springer, Zacks and Leitch embarked in a World War I plane and ordered the pilot to fly to a Northern Ontario lake. The lake was roiling under low clouds and high winds when the aircraft arrived and driving sleet reduced visibility almost to zero. The pilot, Al Cheeseman, hesitated to land. Zacks offered him a bonus to lake the risk. The aircraft touched down on

Every deal was his “biggest and best”; then Zacks forgot money to help 3,000 Jews settle in Canada

the crest of a huge wave and rode it like a surfboard up to a beach.

The next leg on the journey was a hike along a river bank. After a few miles, old Leitch collapsed. On the other side of the river Zacks saw a boat. He stripped and swam the icy flood to borrow it. The owner, who lived in a nearby Indian shack, was absent. When Zacks knocked at the door, a savage dog sprang out and attacked. Zacks managed to fight it off and get away in the boat.

Zacks and Cryderman rowed Leitch back down the river to the lake, where they put up the old prospector for the night in the aircraft. Then they rejoined Springer and Cheeseman up the river. Finally, after slogging ten miles through swamp and scrub they came to a few tents beside a gold claim. Zacks financed the claim and out of it came The Leitch Gold Mines, a highly profitable property of which Karl Springer is now president.

Shortly before World War II Zacks embarked on a scheme which, though unsuccessful, illustrates his astuteness. He received a tip from a contact in Vienna that the British pound was about to drop from five to three dollars in consequence of the international crisis. At the time Zacks and a partner owed a Canadian bank two million dollars. They sailed to London with the object of getting their two-million-dollar loan transferred to a sterling loan from a British bank at five dollars to the pound. “We wanted to owe the money in pounds instead of dollars,” he explains. Zacks planned that when the pound dropped to three dollars he would repay the loan. “If my plan had come off,” Zacks said, "we would have netted a profit of about eight hundred thousand dollars because the pound did drop for a short time to three dollars. But at the last minute my partner lost his nerve and we never went through with it.”

A vivid picture of Zacks during his early money-making years is provided by his brother-in-law, Joseph Newman, a well-known Toronto lawyer. “Sam lived in our Toronto home for twenty years before he married.” says Newman, "and thought of nothing but deals. His strongest characteristic was the application of

great emotion to everything he did. Every deal he entered into was the biggest and the best, and he infected others with his enthusiasm. This quality ran like a red ribbon through his life. Whatever the project before him was, he deified it.”

If Zacks deified Mammon for many years he did not hesitate to drop this god when moved by pity. While wrestling with the frustrations of the abortive dollar-sterling loan deal in London. Zacks was harrowed by the pitiful condition of thousands of refugees from German antiSemitism. “Suddenly,” he says, “I forgot business and decided to do something for my people.”

Zacks returned to Canada and became chairman of the Canadian Jewish Congress Refugee Committee. He helped several thousand European Jewish farmers to settle on Canadian soil during the early days of the war.

Among his other proteges were three thousand German Jewish internees, including many high - school boys. Zacks toured Canada from coast to coast raising funds to send them to university. Many non-Jews contributed. One old prairie woman gave him two cows. Zacks made himself financially responsible for five of the boys and got sponsors for many others. One. on whom he spent ten thousand dollars, repaid every penny. Today most of them are making impressive contributions to Canadian art, science, law. medicine and scholarship. They include Eric Koch, a CBC producer, Martin Fischer, a Toronto psychiatrist. Emil Fackenheim, a professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto, and John Neumark, a Montreal pianist who accompanies the Canadian singer Maureen Forrester. Another, whom Zacks recalls with some misgivings, was Klaus Fuchs, a nuclear physicist who later was jailed by the British for giving scientific secrets to Russia.

Nazi barbarities during the war convinced Zacks that a Hebrew state was essential for the future protection of his race. In 1943, at thirty-nine, he became president of the Zionist Organization of Canada; “Some of my friends looked upon me as mad,” he says.

Rabbi Reuben Slonim explains: “In

those days it took a special kind of guts to be a Zionist. People used to say: ‘You don't have to be crazy to be a Zionist but it helps.’ Palestine was then a British colony administered under a League of Nations mandate. The position of Canadian Jews in relation to Zionism was particularly delicate. Owing to Canada’s British connection, and Britain’s commitments to the anti-Zionist Arabs in the Middle East, the patriotism of Canadian Zionists was questioned.”

The pictures in 1945 of the charnel houses called concentration camps rallied most Canadian Jews to the Zionist cause but there were differences of opinion about what form the new state should take. Zacks was among Zionist leaders throughout the British commonwealth who visited Britain's foreign secretary, the late Ernest Bevin. On various occasions, the Zionists begged Bevin to give up the League of Nations mandate to run Palestine as a colony and support the establishment in Palestine of a Jewish dominion that would remain a member of the British commonwealth.

“If Bevin had consented,” says Zacks, “I’m sure the plan would have worked out. But during my interview I got an impression shared by many other Jews, namely that Bevin was anti-Semitic.”

When Bevin wavered over the future of Palestine and prohibited the immigration to Palestine of thousands of Jews who were still suffering in European camps, Zacks was outraged. He helped raise funds to buy the old ships which, laden with ragged, half-starved European Jews, ran the British blockade to Palestine. Politically he now aligned himself with David Ben Gurion, who was dedicated to the establishment in Palestine of a liberal Jewish republic.

In November 1947 the United Nations brought to an end what Winston Churchill described as "Bevin’s squalid war against the Jews.” The United Nations General Assembly voted for the partition of Palestine into the Jewish state of Israel and the Arab state of Jordan. The Israelis knew that as soon as the British pulled their troops out of Palestine, the following May, surrounding Arab states would attack them.

With others. Zacks had been preparing against this. He had joined the Sonneborn Institute, a secret organization named for its leader, the New York millionaire Rudolf G. Sonneborn. The institute consisted of eighteen leading North American Jews, bankers, lawyers, merchants and industrialists. “The first thing we all did,” says Zacks, “was kick in a million dollars apiece.”

The institute supported Haganah. the Israeli army of David Ben Gurion. The Sonneborn Institute bought aircraft, naval vessels, guns and ammunition and smuggled them to Haganah. The operation was illegal since both the United States and Canada had placed an embargo on the shipment of arms to the Middle East. This embargo was meant to be neutral and pacific but it in fact operated to Arab advantage since the Arab countries abounded in World War II arms given or sold to them by the British and U. S. governments under the pressure of pro-Arab oil interests.

While the RCMP and FBI prosecuted a handful of small fry who were caught smuggling arms out of Canada and the United States neither force accumulated sufficient evidence to bring charges against the influential North American Zionists who headed the gun-running operation.

Zacks’ part in this operation was important and risky. It could have cost him his freedom, his reputation and perhaps much of his fortune. But he looks back

r.pon it today with pride. His activities consisted largely of buying from conniving scrap-metal dealers surplus Canadian Bren guns which the defense department had sold on the condition that they'd be melted down. The guns were handed over to Israeli secret agents in Canada. In most instances they were smuggled first into the United States and then across the Mexican border, whence they were shipped to Israel.

Parts of various small arms were manufactured secretly in a clandestine factory over a Toronto service station and smuggled to Israel for assembly into weapons. “I knew these things were going on.” says Zacks.

But Zacks, like most people in undercover operations, did not know everything that was going on. One night he received a telephone call from New York. A voice said: “A mutual friend wants to go fishing on Friday.” Zacks recognized the call as a code signal. “I’ll take him.” he replied.

The following Friday night Zacks drove down to the Toronto docks and, as he had expected, he found there a World War 11 Fairmile torpedo boat which had been converted into a private luxury yacht. Aboard the yacht he picked up an

Israeli and took him to the Royal York Hotel. The Israeli entered the hotel and at the check room presented claim checks for about a dozen suitcases. Half a dozen bellboys carried the cases out to Zacks’ car.

Zacks then drove back to the Fairmile and saw the cases loaded aboard. "The cases contained guns,” says Zacks, “but where they’d come from I don’t know.” Later the Fairmile took off in the direction of the United States.

Many Canadian Jewish organizations to which Zacks belonged collected funds for the purchase of food and clothing for distressed European Jews. Sometimes Zionists diverted a percentage of these funds to the purchase of arms for Israel.

On one occasion an Israeli secret agent in Canada needed two hundred thousand dollars to buy Canadian weapons. Zacks and two other Canadians were present in a hotel room when the Israeli agent arrived. One of the other men was the representative of a Jewish agency, and the secret agent expected to collect the money from him.

But the custodian of the money, learning that it was to go into arms, refused to sign the cheque. The Israeli secret agent flew into a rage, drew a gun and threatened to shoot the custodian. Zacks and the other Canadian pounced on the agent, held him down and convinced him that such a rash deed would do no good. The Israeli agent was mollified the next day when Zacks borrowed a quarter of a million dollars from another source and so permitted the arms deal to go through.

Once, on his way to Israel, Zacks called at an address in New York. There he was asked to carry in his luggage two heavy packages. He was told that the packages contained surgical gloves and that he had

nothing to worry about. He was told further that in Paris, where he had to change aircraft, he would be met by a Zionist who would help him.

-Zacks knew that he was being asked to transport something more important than surgical gloves, but he said nothing. At New York he paid the airline, out of his own pocket, two hundred dollars in excess baggage charges.

When he landed at Orly air field, Paris, there was nobody to meet him. He decided to travel alone to Le Bourget airport from whence the Israel flight took off. To

his consternation, however, the French customs wanted to inspect his baggage before permitting him to travel across Paris. Zacks refused to open his bags. The customs men detained him for several hours.

After much argument, they permitted Zacks to make a telephone call to an influential French Zionist. At once a French official came out to the airport and instructed the customs men to let Zacks go without an inspection. The French official also provided Zacks with an escort of two police motor cyclists who speeded his drive across the city by getting him

through stoplights, and enabled him, in the nick of time, to catch the aircraft for Israel.

In Israel, Zacks delivered the packages to the Weizmann Institute, a scientific laboratory. One contained samples of tear gas. After analyzing the samples Jewish chemists reproduced the tear gas in volume. The gas was used at the critical Jewish-Arab battle of Safad. The Arab troops were blinded. They fled before a Jewish attack. This Jewish victory marked a turning point in the Arab-Israeli war. It convinced the Arabs that the Jews were

determined to stay in Israel, and it led to the armistice of 1949.

Zacks and his wife watched the battle of Safad. Violence was nothing new to Ayala Zacks. Her first husband, Maurice Fleg, son of playwright and author Edmond Fleg, died from wounds in action against the Germans in 1940. Ayala escaped from German-occupied Paris to a small house she owned in the South of France. For two years she served in the French underground. Eventually the underground decided to send her to England with plans of German army positions. She went via Spain to Portugal and then flew to England.

Later she became a liaison officer in De Gaulle’s Free French Forces.

Her job was maintaining contact with the Maquis in France. In 1944 she went ashore in the south of France from an assault landing craft as part of the Allied invasion. She won the Croix de Guerre for the way she organized Maquis assistance to the advancing Allied armies.

On the liberation of Paris she had a new uniform made by one of her pre-war seamstresses. Under less joyous circumstances its break-away from military severity would have brought frowns from her superior officers. She wore it to a ball attended by Field Marshal Montgomery. Dancing with Ayala, Montgomery said: “How do you French women manage, even in uniform, to look so chic?”

In 1946, soon after she was demobilized from the French army, she met Zacks at a Zionist meeting in Switzerland. For several months Zacks conducted a transAtlantic courtship, flying to see Ayala whenever he could and speaking often to her on the trans-ocean telephone.

In 1947 Ayala came to visit Canada. A few weeks after she arrived, they married. In Canada, Ayala was among those who spoke on behalf of Haganah, inspiring scores of young men, both Jews and Christians, to join the Israeli forces. One who joined at this time was Buzz Beurling, a famous World War II fighter pilot. Beurling crashed and died when piloting a fighter aircraft from Rome to Israel. Another was Ben Dunkelman, a son of the chairman of Tip Top Tailors. Dunkelman, who had won the DSO as a Canadian infantry major, fought many battles in Israel as a brigade commander, his greatest achievement being the capture of Nazareth by an adroit flanking movement.

Together Sam and Ayala Zacks rallied prominent Canadian Christians to the Israeli cause. Out of their efforts came the Canada Israel Association under the chairmanship of Sir Ellsworth Flavelle.

In 1949 Israel was secure. Zacks resigned from the Zionist Organization of Canada to return to business. He is president of Oakville Wood Specialities Ltd., makers of furniture veneers; of Tayside Textiles Ltd., weavers of cloth; and of Fibre Products of Canada Ltd., manufacturers of jute, hair and cotton products for the upholstery and rug industry.

Zacks sits on the board of many other companies, including that of the Palestine Economic Corporation of Canada, an organization of Canadian businessmen which invests in Israeli industry.

Between trips to Europe on art hunting expeditions the Zacks shuttle between their homes in Tel Aviv and Toronto as other Canadians shuttle between the suburbs and their country cottage. "We go when we feel in need of a change or a little sunshine,” says Zacks.

But they no longer take part in the political life of Israel. “We’ve both had enough of politics and war,” says Mrs. Zacks. "Today we concentrate on art because we believe it transcends both in importance.” jc