WARSAW, Poland — Jan Kulczyk, Poland’s richest man and the founder and president of investment empire Kulczyk Holding, who made his fortune during Poland’s economic transformations, and who donated $5.5 million to build the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, has died. He was 65 years old.
TVN24 said he died in Vienna from complications of cardiac surgery.
His donation to Poland’s Jewish museum, despite not being Jewish, was the largest single grant from a private donor and allowed the museum, which opened in April 2013, to finish building the core exhibition.
In 2012, Poland bestowed a Patron of Culture medal on Kulczyk for supporting the museum. An auditorium at the museum bears his name.
“Jan Kulczyk helped us when we were in greatest need,” museum representatives said in a statement. “His name will not be forgotten.”
Poland’s former president, Lech Walesa, said that Kulczyk was irreplaceable. “It will be hard to organize some things without him.”
For years, Kulczyk, a lawyer and manager by education, led lists of the richest Poles and was reputed for his courage and imagination in business decisions. He invested in the energy and natural resources sectors in Europe and in Africa, and also developed the car and infrastructure sectors in Poland.
Poland’s edition of the Forbes Magazine estimated his wealth at some 15 billion zlotys ($4 billion.)
To many, his success was a symbol of the opportunities offered by Poland’s transition from a communist to a free market economy. He started from a trading company set up by his father, and built his fortune taking part in the intensive privatization of state plants after communism.
“You cannot write an honest history of Poland’s transformations after 1989 without mentioning the role of Jan Kulczyk,” said Leszek Balcerowicz, former finance minister and author of Poland’s transformation program.
Critics, though, said Kulczyk made money by acquiring Polish assets at favorable prices and then selling them to western investors at a large profit.
Divorced from his wife, he is survived by a son and a daughter.