Solomon A. Goldstein, a Baltimore insurance man and a lifelong advocate for racial equality and justice who participated in the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp during World War II, died Thursday of pulmonary failure at Sinai Hospital.
He was 93, and would have celebrated his 94th birthday on St. Patrick's Day.
"Sol was an extraordinary public servant and a businessman who believed what Judaism teaches about social justice," said former Undersecretary of State Wendy R. Sherman, who served in the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, and was a longtime family friend.
"He supported peace in the Middle East, and he continued giving speeches until very late in life all over the state," said Ambassador Sherman, who is now a senior fellow at Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center.
"He had tremendous energy and verve, and he and his late wife Jean were energized, committed and invested as people," she said.
Solomon Albert Goldstein was the son of Isaac Gaston Goldstein and Sarah Miller Goldstein, who owned and operated a small grocery store in Fairfield, where the family also lived.
"It was rough making ends meet," Mr. Goldstein wrote in a family memoir. "We were the only Jews there for a while. Got into fights because most of the kids were of Eastern European families and did not like Jews."
Mr. Goldstein developed a deep love of reading, and as a student at City College played lacrosse and football. "I had fun but realized how poor we were. I could not afford new clothes," he recalled.
Mr. Goldstein left City his senior year and enlisted in the Army in 1941. He joined the 1st Infantry Division, 16th Regiment, and fought in Europe.
He landed in Normandy on D-Day in the second wave of troops, and by day's end, 40 percent of his platoon had been killed.
Recalling making his way to the beach from a landing craft, he wrote, "You just tried to keep your legs moving and wondering if you were going to be the next hit."
"I have never gone back [to Normandy] because I have too many friends that are still there," he told the Cecil Whig in a 2014 interview.
He fought across France, Holland, Belgium and at the Battle of the Bulge. In April 1945, he was one of the liberators with Gen. George S. Patton Jr.'s 3rd Army of the Buchenwald concentration camp.
"We had no idea about concentration camps; no one had ever said a word," he wrote.
He was approached by a man who weighed no more than 70 pounds who wanted to know if they were American soldiers.
"I said, 'Yes,' but in Yiddish, and said, 'I am also a Jew,'" he recalled. "He grabbed my hands and said in Yiddish, 'What took you so long?' I started to cry."
Several days later, when a German major he had taken prisoner called him a 'Jewish pig' and spat in his face, Mr. Goldstein recalled reaching into his boot and withdrawing a long knife.
"I cut him from his neck to his chest, and we threw his body in the woods," he wrote. "I guess I kept seeing myself in those concentration camps, and in that instantaneous moment I just reacted."
Discharged in 1946 with the rank of master sergeant, he returned to Baltimore, earned his General Educational Development certificate and purchased a bar.
His decorations included the Bronze Star for valor, Purple Heart, Legion of Merit, Combat Infantry Badge with two battle stars for Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge, and in 2013 was awarded the Legion d'Honneur by the French government.
In 1946, he married Jean Turk, who was an activist and a supporter of the civil rights, anti-war and women's rights movements.
For more than 40 years, he was an executive with the Lincoln Insurance Co. and was still overseeing several clients at his death.
"His profession was the insurance business, but his devotion was helping people in desperate straits," said a son, Mark David Goldstein of Naples, Fla.
His wartime experiences led Mr. Goldstein to work diligently for Jewish causes.
"When I was [at Buchenwald], I swore if there was ever a Jew in trouble and I could help, I would," he told Goucher College in a 2010 oral history interview.
In the mid-1950s, he joined the Israeli Defense Forces and worked to get Jews out of the Soviet Union.
After being discharged in 1982, he went to Ethiopia to assist the Jewish Ethiopian community.
"In 1982, I along with five other people went to Ethiopia. We were there for six weeks. We brought out almost 6,000 black Jews called the Falasha to Eritrea," he said in the Goucher interview.
"And then I went to Israel with the Israeli Army, General Sharon, Ariel Sharon, all the way to Lebanon and Beirut," he said. "I spent 35 years or more getting Jews out of the Soviet Union, made six trips to to the Soviet Union, and two to Russia."
Mr. Goldstein had to endure being stripped naked and put in a freezing room for hours by the authorities.
"They didn't want me there, and I wouldn't even tell them where I was going ... and who I was visiting, and I wouldn't tell them," he said in the interview.
For decades, Mr. Goldstein's wife put up with and understood the necessity of his many missions.
"When I reached the age of 70 ... something came up, and my wife said, 'No that's all. No more.' She never complained or never said I couldn't go or do, but then she drew the line," he said in the Goucher interview.
Mrs. Goldstein died in 2006.
He was a founder of the Black Jewish Forum of Baltimore, served as president of the Baltimore Jewish Council and founded its speakers bureau.
He chaired the Soviet Jewry Committee for the National Conference for Soviet Jewry as well as the national Conference of Ethiopian Jewry.
He served on the Governor's Commission for Youthful Offenders and served as a member of the review board of the Attorney's Grievance Commission of Maryland.
"He was involved in a lot of issues that were important to a lot of people," his son said.
Mr. Goldstein contributed frequent letters to the editor to The Baltimore Sun, writing on issues pertaining to Jewish needs and causes.
Ms. Sherman recalled when her family and the Goldsteins stood in line to view President John F. Kennedy's coffin in the Capitol rotunda, after his assassination in 1963.
"Our two families were very close, and one of my fondest memories was of our two families going to Washington and standing for hours to view President Kennedy's coffin. They wanted us to experience it and remember," she said. "And I'll remember it until my last breath."
A longtime resident of Old Court Road in Pikesville, Mr. Goldstein enjoyed keeping and riding Tennessee walking horses, and was still driving his car up until his death, family members said.
He had been an active member of the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation since 1951.
Funeral services were held Friday at Sol Levinson & Bros. in Pikesville.
He is survived by two other sons, Robert Turk Goldstein of Baltimore and Donald B. Goldstein of Dallas; five grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren.
Baltimore Sun researcher Paul McCardell contributed to this article.