Laszlo Tauber, 87, a Hungarian immigrant, surgeon and Holocaust survivor who while remaining relatively little known became a major developer and philanthropist, died of congestive heart failure July 28 at his home in Potomac.
A few years ago, his wealth was estimated at more than $1 billion and a profile in The Washington Post told readers that he might have been "the richest Washingtonian you've never heard about."
In a life of paradox, adventure, setbacks and accomplishment, Dr. Tauber served as chief surgeon in a makeshift hospital in Nazi-occupied Hungary, made a narrow escape from a Nazi roundup, performed physicals for 25 cents each during his early days in Washington and ultimately built office buildings, apartments and the old Jefferson Memorial Hospital.
As of three years ago, he had donated $25 million to medical and Holocaust-related causes. He was in the process of giving $15 million for scholarships to descendants of those who served in the U.S. military during World War II.
An additional $10 million, honoring Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, was to go to organizations that memorialize the Holocaust and to students in Sweden and Denmark.
He was described as a man of vivid idiosyncrasies, dispensing money with an open hand while shopping for shirts in discount store basements, stooping to scoop up the odd paper clip, and zealously pursuing all the profit his no-frills office buildings could provide.
All of this -- his competitive spirit, his drive, his frugality, his sympathy for the underdog, he told The Post -- could be traced to the Holocaust.
Dr. Tauber was born in Budapest and graduated from medical school there in 1938. During World War II, he was chief of surgery at the hospital in the Jewish ghetto, where he rescued many fellow Jews. After the war, he studied neurosurgery in Sweden and came to the United States in 1947. He held a fellowship at George Washington University and supplemented his stipend with the low-price physicals.
With a $750 loan, he began building his real estate empire, spending, in his estimation, 5 percent of his time on an activity that brought him 95 percent of his money. At one time, he was said to be the federal government's largest private landlord here.
He stipulated that part of his benefactions be set aside for African Americans. "It can not be tolerated," he said, "that those of us who were discriminated against should ever ourselves discriminate." And as for aiding the descendants of veterans, he said, "it is not enough to shake hands and say thank you."
His first marriage ended in divorce.
Survivors include his wife, Diane; a son, Alfred I. Tauber of Boston; a daughter, Ingrid D. Tauber of San Francisco; a stepdaughter, Rachael Tauber of San Francisco; and four grandchildren.