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Julian Bussgang, entrepreneur who wrote about escaping Poland as a boy during Holocaust, dies at 98

Julian Bussgang and his wife, Fay, at the 2011 ceremony at the Polish consulate in New York City when then-President Bronislaw Komorowski presented Dr. Bussgang with Poland's Knight's Cross of the Order of Merit.

Not long before the Nazi invasion of Poland set off World War II, youthful fascists began attacking Jews in the streets of Lwów, the southeastern Polish city where 14-year-old Julian Bussgang and his family lived.

College-aged fascists engaged in “unprovoked random assaults on Jewish street vendors and passersby,” Dr. Bussgang wrote in a memoir. Gangs “attacked Jewish students with canes fitted out with razor blades. Some of these senseless beatings were fatal. I became afraid to walk in the streets around the university.”

In the days after the German army invaded on Sept. 1, 1939, his parents faced difficult choices: when to leave, by what mode of travel, and in which direction. Only later would his family learn that by driving south toward Romania, rather than heading east, they probably avoided being captured by the Soviet army and deported to Siberia.

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“In the early hours of Sept. 18, 1939, my parents, my sister, and I left our native Poland,” he wrote. “We crossed the border on foot, walking across the bridge, knapsacks on our backs, small suitcases in hand, making our way in the darkness, apprehensive about what lay ahead.”

Dr. Bussgang, who saw combat as a teenage soldier in 1944, and years later founded a Lexington-based electronics communications company, was 98 when he died Saturday in his NewBridge on the Charles home in Dedham. He and his wife, Fay, had moved there 14 years ago after living in Lexington for decades.

“My parents made a most fortunate decision, a decision that undoubtedly saved our lives,” he wrote of his family’s escape from Poland and the subsequent journey that brought them to Tel Aviv, in what was then Palestine.

Many relatives were not as lucky. His memoir concludes with a list: “Members of my family who perished” — a grandfather, aunts, uncles, cousins.

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“I spent my youth on the edge of a raging disaster. I cannot help but identify with those who were lost,” he wrote in “Refugee, Soldier, Student,” a 2020 memoir.

“The transport trains carrying victims are ones that I could have been on. The scruffy children in the streets of the ghetto — one of them could have been me. I might have been among the resistance fighters who, gaunt and drawn, faced almost certain death. Or, I could have been in the desperate ranks of those marched into camps from which they would never emerge.”

Instead, he finished high school in Tel Aviv and enlisted in the 2nd Polish Corps so he could head back to help save Europe. In early 1944, he fought in the Battle for Monte Cassino, a key victory for the Allies that came at the cost of tens of thousands of casualties.

After the war he studied in Italy, London, and the United States, where he finished his final two degrees at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and at Harvard University. Along with Polish, he could speak English, French, German, and Italian fluently.

Dr. Bussgang spent more than three decades in the technology field as a researcher, entrepreneur, consultant, and teacher. In his early 60s, he sold his company, Signatron Inc. of Lexington.

His work years overlapped with an increasing focus on ensuring that what had happened to Jews in Poland would not be forgotten.

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Traveling to Poland, Dr. Bussgang met with relatives, revisited sites from his youth, and worked with an international business executives’ nonprofit to help privatize Polish companies. He also organized reunions of former Polish students and served on boards of Polish-American organizations.

In 2011, President Bronislaw Komorowski of Poland awarded Dr. Bussgang with the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Merit.

With his wife, Fay, Dr. Bussgang translated and annotated two volumes of “The Last Eyewitnesses: Children of the Holocaust Speak.”

“We believe that this collection of wartime and postwar experiences of Jewish children can provide a more comprehensive view of the tragic era of the Holocaust than individual memoirs,” they wrote in their translators’ note for the second volume.

“It is essential,” they said, “that new generations understand its scope and impact.”

Born at home on March 26, 1925, in Lwów, Poland, a city that is now Lviv, Ukraine, Julian Jakob Bussgang was the son of Joseph Bussgang, an importer and exporter of packaged goods and soaps and spices in Poland, and Stefania Philipp Bussgang, who worked in Joseph’s office.

When Dr. Bussgang, his parents, and his older sister, Janine Bussgang Merab, escaped Poland in mid-September 1939, they initially stayed in Bucharest, Romania, until they secured visas to Palestine.

Dr. Bussgang graduated from a refugee Polish high school in Tel Aviv and then “decided to go along with all my friends to the Polish Army,” he said in a 2002 oral history interview for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. His parents “weren’t completely happy, but respected my choice.”

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Before the Battle for Monte Cassino, General Wladyslaw Anders, who commanded the 2nd Polish Corps, told the troops they would be fighting “for the freedom of Poland,” Dr. Bussgang recalled in the interview.

“I was mostly fighting for the freedom of my relatives and fellow Jews” back in Poland, he said, and that battle in Italy was fierce. “Several of my friends got killed. The casualties were very heavy.”

After the war ended, he initially studied at Polytechnic of Turin in Italy. In an oral history interview with the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, where he was a life fellow, Dr. Bussgang said he had loved mathematics since he was a boy, when his parents hired a university student to teach him more than he could learn at school.

In postwar Europe, given the choice of returning to Poland or going to England, Dr. Bussgang picked the latter and received a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the University of London.

Emigrating to the United States, he graduated from MIT with a master’s in electrical engineering and wrote the Bussgang Theorem as his thesis.

While finishing his doctorate in applied physics at Harvard, he began working at the MIT Lincoln Laboratory, and then moved to RCA’s aerospace division.

In 1962, he founded and became president of Signatron Inc. in Lexington. He secured patents with top-secret security clearance, his family said, and also consulted with companies including the defense contractor Grumman on equipment used in projects such as the lunar module for the first moon landing.

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Sundstrand Corp. of Illinois acquired Signatron in the mid-1980s and Dr. Bussgang retired in 1987.

Through a mutual friend, he had met Fay Vogel, who had a doctorate in education from Harvard. They married in 1960 and had three children.

The family lived for many years in Lexington, where Dr. Bussgang was active on numerous civic affairs committees, overseeing everything from cable TV to the expansion of Hanscom Field.

“The thing we’ve been reflecting on is that as extraordinary a man as he was at work, at home he was remarkably ordinary: loving, playful, even silly,” said Dr. Bussgang’s son, Jeffrey of Newton. “And each of us had completely uncomplicated relationships with him, unadulterated loving relationships.”

Despite all Dr. Bussgang had endured in his childhood, Jeffrey said, “somehow he just retained an extraordinary sense of optimism and positivity.”

In addition to his wife and son, Dr. Bussgang leaves two daughters, Jessica Rosenbloom of Wellesley and Julie of Berkeley, Calif.; and eight grandchildren.

A funeral service will be held at 10 a.m. Tuesday in Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley.

“Many members of my family, our friends and acquaintances, many of my school friends, many of the people I knew and loved were killed by the Nazis,” Dr. Bussgang wrote near the end of his memoir.

“I have been one of the lucky ones. I survived,” he said, adding that even so, “the Holocaust still affected me. Lurking in the depth of my soul, there is a gnawing sorrow and haunting memories.”


Bryan Marquard can be reached at bryan.marquard@globe.com.