Fabian Homer Kolker, an international activist who brought Jews out of the former Soviet Union, died Tuesday of complications of diabetes at Sinai Hospital. He was 85 and lived in Pikesville.
Long a passionate advocate of the state of Israel, he spent 30 years defending the rights of Jews in the former U.S.S.R.
"He worked night and day to get people free from Russia," said Audrey Levine, a friend who lives in Baltimore County. "He did it for freedom."
He first became interested in the plight of Soviet Jews in 1960 when he met with philosopher Bertrand Russell, who told him how families were being repressed in the Soviet Union.
"I had always been a student of history, a history buff," he said in a 1986 interview in The Sun. "I never wanted to forget my origins. My father had emigrated from the Ukraine in 1887. These were the people from whom I stemmed."
In 1963, he was one of a group of four who founded the American Conference on Soviet Jewry. The plight of Soviet Jews became more acute after the 1967 Six-Day War, when they began to demand the right to emigrate to Israel.
In 1984, the Baltimore Jewish Times described Mr. Kolker as "almost a one-man State Department with a single portfolio: liberating Soviet Jews. He is credited with personally helping about 150 families leave the Soviet Union."
In the same article, he was quoted as saying: "Soviet Jews are my heros. They are living in a giant prison and fighting a giant colossus. Their courage has inspired me for 25 years."
On his 27 trips to Israel, and 14 trips to the former U.S.S.R., he met with Israeli prime ministers Golda Meir, Yitzhak Rabin, Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir and with Soviet leader Alexei Kosygin.
"He never worked under the auspices of organizations," said his son, Dr. Richard Kolker, who lives in Pikesville. "He did things on his own, his way."
He played a role in gaining the release of two celebrated refuseniks (those who were denied permission to emigrate from the Soviet Union) in the 1980s. They were prisoner of conscience Anatoly Shcharansky and ballet dancer Valery Panov.
He also helped immigrating Russian Jewish families get established economically when they arrived in Baltimore.
Born in Baltimore, he was raised in Reservoir Hill. He was a 1931 City College graduate. He attended the Johns Hopkins University and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Finance in 1935. He received a law degree from the University of Maryland School of Law.
Through the 1980s, he owned the Maryland Lumber Co. on West Franklin Street, which his father, Benjamin Kolker, founded in 1908. The business provided building supplies to contractors and government agencies.
He was an accomplished tennis enthusiast who played at Druid Hill Park.
Among his many roles, he served as state of Israel bond chairman for Maryland in 1965. He was on the board of governors of Tel Aviv University.
He was a lifelong member of Chizuk Amuno Congregation, Pikesville.
His marriage to the former Bertha Levenson ended in divorce.
Services were held Wednesday at Sol Levinson & Brothers in Pikesville.
His daughter, Sally M. Kolker, died in 1999.
In addition to his son, he is survived by another son, James D. Kolker of Delray Beach, Fla.; three sisters, Phyllis K. Schreter, Gloria K. Hack and Lane K. Berk, all of Baltimore; and 10 grandchildren.