Childhood, Survival, Loss & Hope
Born in Maków-Mazowiecki, Poland, in 1922, David Azrieli was the second of four children of Sara-Chaya (née Gerwer) and Rafael Hirsch Azrylewicz. In September 1939, he escaped the Nazi occupation of his hometown by moving eastward into Soviet-occupied Poland. When Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, he fled further east always managing to stay just one step ahead of the Nazis.
David Azrieli’s travels in the Soviet Union took him to Gomel, Stalingrad, Ulyanovsk, Tashkent and Bukhara. In the fall of 1942, he joined the Polish “Anders” Army in Bukhara and moved with them into Iran and then to Baghdad. He reached British Mandate Palestine in late 1942.
He studied architecture at Technion – Israel Institute of Technology from 1943-1946. In 1946, David Azrieli learned that, of his family, only one brother survived the Holocaust. He served in the Seventh Brigade during Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, taking part in the Latrun campaign during the siege of Jerusalem.
The Journey to a New Home
David Azrieli moved to Montreal in 1954, where he earned his Bachelor of Arts from the Thomas More Institute. He launched his career in design, real estate development and property management in 1957 with the modest construction of four duplexes in Montreal.
David Azrieli founded Canpro Investments Ltd. in Montreal in the early 1960s, at first focusing on developing high-rise residential buildings and, in 1967, building the 250-room Hotel des Artistes that housed the musicians and other artists who performed at Expo ’67. Following his success there, he moved on to bigger commercial projects, designing his first shopping centre in 1969.