Hornstein’s story is as improbable as it is inspirational. Born in Cracow, Poland, in 1920, he attended business school there and later joined his father in running a garment factory, until it was confiscated by the Nazis during the Second World War.
While attempting to flee the Nazis, Hornstein was arrested and forced onto a train bound for the Auschwitz death camp. During a border stop, Hornstein escaped by jumping from the train, seeking refuge in the forests of Slovakia.
He eventually met Renata Witelson, another Polish Jew fleeing Nazi persecution. The two survived the war and moved to Rome, where they were married in 1946. Hornstein worked in currency exchange and stock trading in Rome, where the couple’s lifelong love of art began to take form.
Upon the advice of the Canadian ambassador to Italy they had befriended, the Hornsteins moved to Montreal in 1951, when Hornstein founded the real estate company Federal Construction Ltd. He served as its president and continued to work until recently.
Hornstein’s growing love of art led him to a relationship with the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) that would last decades. He became a member of the MMFA’s board of trustees in 1970 and later was its vice-president and chairman of the Acquisition Committee for European Art before 1900.
The Hornsteins donated more than 100 pieces of exceptional old masters to the MMFA. The works, likely valued at over $100 million, will be housed in the soon-to-be opened Michal and Renata Hornstein Pavilion for Peace, which is devoted to art and education. Their gift was the largest private art donation to a Quebec museum in modern history.
In addition to the MMFA, the Hornsteins extended their tremendous generosity to a number of local health organizations including the Montreal Heart Institute and Montreal General Hospital, and universities including Concordia.
The Hornstein’s first gift to Concordia, in 1998, established the Renata Hornstein Graduate Fellowship in Art History, a testament to their own experience of the richness of art.