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Holocaust Survivor’s $40 Million Estate Lingers

Two years after Roman Blum’s death, a woman in Poland claims to be his heir

Isabel Fattal
June 06, 2014

Holocaust survivor and real estate magnate Roman Blum left behind an enormous fortune when he died in 2012—and an even bigger mystery. Tho 97-year-old Staten Island real estate developer had amassed a $40 million estate, but had no will and no surviving relatives. An 18-month international search for heirs to Blum’s fortune, the largest unclaimed estate in New York history, was conducted without success, the New York Post reports.

That’s not for lack of trying. Gary Gotlin, the Staten Island public administrator who led the search, said he received more than 400 emails from people around the world making claims to Blum’s estate. Only two individuals, however, have officially submitted claims in Staten Island Surrogate’s Court since then. One will, submitted by Anthony J. Allegrino II in October 2013, is still being processed. A second will, submitted last week, offers a captivating story of epic love that managed to survive World War II and decades of separation. Whether it’s true, however, is up to the court to determine.

According to the New York Post, Teresa Musial, the former caregiver and friend of a Polish woman named Helen Pietrucha (and her alleged heir), claims that Blum left his entire estate to Pietrucha, who died in 1999 at 79. Musial says Blum and Pietrucha met in 1938 in Warsaw and had planned to marry before Pietrucha’s family was deported to Siberia in 1940. After the war, having heard no news of Pietrucha’s fate, Blum married another woman. After divorcing his wife years later, Blum attempted to reconnect with Pietrucha, only to discover that she had married another man in Australia and returned to Poland with him by the late 1970s.

Musial claims in her court filing that in Blum’s last letter to Pietrucha, written in 1987, he left his entire estate to her. According to the New York Post, Blum wrote: “Dear Helen, with this last will I will make all the suffering and pain up to you after the loss of our child and for what that war made to us tearing us apart.” Blum, however, didn’t tell anyone about the will, which was never filed in court or with a lawyer. The two witnesses listed on the 1987 will produced by Musial have since died.

Gotlin, the public administrator, said he can’t address the validity of Musial’s claim until it is proven or disproven in court; however, he stressed that Musial’s story is not the first of its kind. “This story sounds very familiar to many dozens of other stories that we received,” he said. “We’ve received other very detailed emails from people in Europe… lots of love stories.”

One red flag for Gotlin is the time lapse between Blum’s death and both Allegrino’s and Musial’s claims. He also pointed out that Blum did not have a copy of the 1987 will. “There was no will in any of his paperwork, which is strange,” Gotlin said of the search through Blum’s posessions. “You’d think you’d keep a copy when you have all of this money.”

Musial’s claim faces a long process to prove its validity in court, Gotlin explained. The will “has to pass scrutiny—whether the signatures are correct, whether the handwriting is correct,” he said, since both Musial’s claim as an heir to Pietrucha’s estate and the claim to Blum’s estate must be validated. “There are enormous issues of proof here.”

Plus, this newest development doesn’t necessarily signal the end of the Blum mystery. “In a few months there might be another will presented,” Gotlin said.

If no valid heirs are found, Blum’s fortune will eventually be moved from the New York City’s Department of Finance to the state comptroller’s office of unclaimed funds, which currently holds $12 billion in its accounts, according to the New York Times. The money will be held there in perpetuity unless it’s claimed by a proven heir.

Isabel Fattal, a former intern at Tablet Magazine, attends Wesleyan University.