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Michael David Medavoy, 86; Jewish Activist

August 31, 2004|Myrna Oliver | Times Staff Writer

Michael David Medavoy, who as a member of the Jewish Relief Agency in Shanghai helped Russian and German Jews settle in China, has died. He was 86.

Medavoy, the father of Hollywood film producer and Phoenix Pictures president Mike Medavoy, died Sunday at his home in Los Angeles of natural causes, his son's publicist said.

Medavoy fled international political turbulence in Russia and then China in the first half of the 20th century to build a life for his family in Chile and finally the United States.

Living in Shanghai, as World War II loomed in Europe and Jews came under increasing threats from Nazis and repression under Communism in the Soviet Union, Medavoy worked in the Jewish Relief Agency to resettle Jews. He met them at incoming boats in Shanghai and helped them find housing and get a start, just as others had helped his family decades earlier.

Medavoy was born in Kirovgrad in 1918. He and his parents fled the pogroms and aftermath of Russia's revolution and World War I when he was barely a toddler. They settled in China's port city of Shanghai, then a booming center of international commerce.

After his mother rejected the lucrative offer of an heirless Chinese warlord to purchase him, Medavoy grew up, married another Russian refugee, Dora Ozer, and worked for International Telephone & Telegraph.

"Shanghai was heaven for foreigners then," Medavoy told The Times in 1995, when he and his wife returned to the Chinese city with their son for a Shanghai film festival.

Although foreigners were largely left alone to run their businesses during the Japanese occupation of China from 1937 until the end of World War II, Medavoy worried about the growing Communist army of Mao Tse-tung. In 1947, he decided to leave.

"I knew they were coming, so we sold out and got out, just as my family did before from Russia," he said in 1995. "We sold all our furniture and my 1940 Plymouth, and got on a Norwegian steamer headed for South America."

Why Chile? Because, he said, "they had the shortest visa line in town."

After a decade working in South America, Medavoy moved his wife and two children permanently to Los Angeles in 1957. He spent the remainder of his career working for Isuzu Motors.

In addition to his son, Medavoy is survived by his wife, Dora; daughter, Ronnie Dressler; and four grandchildren.

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