Michal Hornstein, O.C., G.O.Q., a prominent Montreal businessman, art collector and philanthropist, was born in Kraków, Poland, in 1920. Captured by the German army during World War II, he was arrested and deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp, but managed to leap from the train. He spent the rest of the war hiding in the forests of Czechoslovakia and living in Budapest. He then escaped to Bratislava, Slovakia, where he met his future wife, Polish-born Renata Witelson, who was also fleeing from the Nazis. At the end of the war, in 1946, the couple settled in Rome, where they married. They then immigrated to Montreal in 1951. One year later, Mr. Hornstein founded Federal Construction Ltd., a real estate company for apartments and shopping centres, where he made his fortune.
Throughout the years, the Hornsteins have proven to be a close-knit couple with a steadfast desire to share their good fortune and contribute to the advancement and well-being of the city and country which welcomed them. They became outstanding philanthropists, making major contributions to the arts, health care and education. “My wife and I don't need as much money," says Michal. “We can afford to give it away in support of important causes that help our less fortunate fellow citizens and we want to do it while we are still alive so we can see the results of our contributions."
In health care, the Hornsteins are major benefactors to many hospitals and institutions, including the Montreal Heart Institute, the Montreal General Hospital, Hôpital Notre-Dame, the Royal Victoria Hospital and the Jewish General Hospital. In 2000, they made a generous gift to the JGH Division of Colorectal Surgery in appreciation for the care Michal received from Dr. Philip Gordon and his team. Their substantial contribution was vital to the Division—allowing for the acquisition of much-needed equipment, such as colonoscopes, sigmoidoscopes and important examination instruments for the early detection of colorectal cancer—and has been known as the Hornstein Family Division of Colorectal Surgery. This was followed by an even more generous contribution in 2013, when the Hornsteins decided to provide the lead gift for the acquisition of a second da Vinci Surgical Robot as part of the You Have the Power to Heal Campaign. “My wife had her cancer removed successfully by Dr. Walter Gotlieb, Director of Gynecologic Oncology and Colposcopy, using the single da Vinci robot available at the JGH at the time," recalls Michal. “She was back home the day after, sharing her enthusiasm and amazement with me about this minimally invasive technology and its tremendous benefits for patients. When we learned that the single da Vinci robot could not keep up with the demand, creating long wait lists for patients in need of life-saving surgery, we saw this as a great opportunity for us to help out and make the benefits of robotic surgery available to more people in Montreal and Quebec." The Hornsteins have also made a provision for the JGH and other vital Montreal institutions in their will.
“On behalf of the JGH family, we wish to thank the Hornstein family for playing such a vital role in the advancement of surgery and patient care at the JGH and the promise it holds for all of us," gratefully acknowledges Myer Bick, President and CEO of the JGH Foundation. “The generosity of Renata and Michal has made and will continue to make a transformational difference for our patients well into the future."
In recognition of his great generosity and unbridled support for art, health and education, Michal Hornstein was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 1984 and promoted to Officer in 2013. In 1993 he was made a Knight of the National Order of Quebec, promoted to Officer in 2002 and Grand Officer in 2013. Both Renata and Michal will be the honourees at the Israel Cancer Research Fund's 37th Annual Gala to be held on June 9 at Place des Arts.