When asked how Erwin Rautenberg would react to the impact his foundation is having on the Jewish community, Rautenberg Foundation board member Tom Corby said, “He’d be very proud that the money awarded through the partnership between the Rautenberg Foundation and the Jewish Community Foundation—money Mr. Rautenberg worked so hard to earn—is being used in a very good way, the right way, and is creating a lasting legacy in his name.”
The Erwin Rautenberg Foundation, under the leadership of Tom Corby, distributes millions of grant dollars annually. In recent years, grants have supported The Foundation’s Cutting Edge Grants and Israel Grants. The Rautenberg Foundation also makes impact grants targeting educational initiatives and human services programs. The Foundation’s Center for Designed Philanthropy serves as the key advisor, recommending and vetting grant candidates and monitoring grant results.
Born in 1920, Erwin was the last bar mitzvah celebrated in his childhood home of Büeckeberg, Germany, amid rising anti-Semitism. In 1937, his father sent him to South America to escape persecution, hoping Erwin would eventually obtain exit visas from Germany for his family to join him in Argentina. His father was beaten and briefly jailed following Kristallnacht in 1938 and died before World War II began. The rest of his family perished in the Holocaust.
Erwin spent the war years working on a cattle ranch in the Patagonia region of Argentina. He was also recruited by the United States government to spy on German naval operations in Argentina for the Allies. After the war, he settled in Los Angeles and found work as a shipping clerk with a local trucking and freight consolidation company, Air-Sea Forwarders. Erwin ultimately took over ownership of the company and it still operates today with offices worldwide.
As he grew older, Erwin wrestled with the ultimate disposition of his hard-earned wealth. His harrowing early life experiences led him to contemplate his legacy and his responsibility to provide opportunities for Jews in need. He wanted to ensure his charitable vision would continue to be fulfilled in perpetuity, but he needed a trustworthy partner.
Erwin met with a circle of confidants, including his estate planning attorney Fred Marcus, his longtime accountant Tom Corby, and Foundation President and CEO Marvin I. Schotland. The outcome of that planning is a unique strategic alliance between a private foundation and a community foundation to carry on Erwin’s philanthropic vision and ensure his legacy.