Samuel Rubin was born on November 17, 1901 in the Czarist Russian town of Bialystok, which is now part of Poland. In 1905 he and his parents, Julius and Lena Rubin, immigrated to Brooklyn, New York, where the parents opened a small “dry goods” store.
After serving for five years as a principal in the Barcolans Product Company, Inc., Rubin in September 1929 founded the New York City-based Spanish Trading Corporation, which imported soap and oil from southern Europe.
Keywiki.org reports that Rubin was “a dedicated socialist who is reputed to have been a Communist Party USA member.” So committed was Rubin to his political cause, that he gave his son the name “Reed” in honor of the American Communist John Reed), who organized the Communist Labor Party, authored an account of the Bolshevik Revolution titled Ten Days That Shook The World, and was ultimately honored by the Soviets with burial in the wall of the Kremlin. Rubin was also a friend of Armand Hammer, the Soviet Union’s chief financial agent in the United States.
Notwithstanding Rubin’s disgust for the “plunder, hunger, and devastation” which he considered to be the inevitably bitter fruits of Western capitalism, he used his considerable business acumen to “play the capitalist game,” as the Transnational Institute, which had close financial and ideological ties to Rubin, once put it. Toward that end, Rubin incorporated the Fabergé perfume company on November 25, 1936. He chose the name Fabergé because it connoted high quality and luxury in the tradition of the late Peter Carl Fabergé (1846-1920), one of the world’s greatest goldsmiths, jewelers, and designers.
Rubin earned a vast fortune with Fabergé. Central to his success was the fact that during WWII, he was able to purchase large quantities of ambergris, a key ingredient for high-end perfumes, which was in the possession of Spain’s Republican government. With undercover assistance from Spanish Communists who were under the control of Joseph Stalin, Rubin smuggled this ambergris to the United States.
After WWII, members of the Fabergé family were deeply upset to learn that their surname had been co-opted by Rubin without their permission. As Robert Chandler writes in his book Shadow World: “The Fabergés had fought against the Bolshevik takeover of Russia in 1917, only to be imprisoned, impoverished, and exiled. Rubin inflicted one final indignity by stealing their renowned name and using it to aid their tormentors.” The Fabergé family obtained a court-ordered injunction against Rubin, but it was lifted in 1951. Rubin eventually paid them the relatively paltry sum of $25,000 for the right to use their name for his popular line of products.
In 1949 Rubin used the wealth he had derived from Fabergé Perfumes to fund and incorporate a philanthropy which he named the Samuel Rubin Foundation.
By the 1950s, the FBI had begun looking into Rubin’s suspected Communist ties. A January 1954 FBI report stated that: (a) in 1944 Rubin and his wife had jointly owned a suburban New York farm house along with a key figure in the Communist-affiliated American Labor Party; (b) in 1945 Rubin had served on the Executive Committee of the Businessman’s Division of the Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee (JAFRC), which was designated as a “communist” organization by the Attorney General; and (c) in 1945 Rubin had chaired the Conference Committee for the Fourth World Congress of Polish Jews, a New York event sponsored by the pro-Communist American Federation for Polish Jews (AFPJ).
A subsequent FBI report, issued three months later, said that Rubin and his wife had been “active in the American Labor Party (ALP) in Westchester County, New York” in 1944, thus “he was considered to be an active communist.” This report also stated that Rubin, when interviewed: (a) said that he had voted for an American Labor Party candidate in the early 1940s but had never been a member of ALP; (b) said that he had never been a member, or a donor to, the Communist Party; (c) acknowledged his acquaintanceship with known Communist Party members Alexander Bittleman, Joseph North, and William Gropper, but claimed never to have discussed Communism or politics with any of them; (d) said that during WWII he had given money to some groups that might now be considered subversive, like the JAFRC, but that he had never been on that organization’s Executive Committee; (e) said it was possible that he had given money to the Communist–affiliated Committee for Democratic Far Eastern Policy (CDFEP); (f) said he had never been a member of AFPJ but may have given money to it; and (g) said it was possible that he had contributed money to the National Council of American-Soviet Friendship (NCAFS), a creation of the Communist Party USA.
Rubin founded numerous music academies, conservatories, and cultural centers in Israel during the 1950s, with the stipulation that Arab students also be awarded scholarships to attend. Moreover, Rubin was critical of what he viewed as Israel’s mistreatment of its Arab neighbors.
In 1963 Rubin sold the Fabergé company for $25 million, and he used the proceeds from that sale to further pursue his philanthropic interests. Most notably, his Samuel Rubin Foundation promptly provided seed money for the creation of the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), a think tank that would consistently support Communist and anti-American causes around the world throughout the Cold War.
In 1976 Rubin gave tens of thousands of dollars to Breira, an organization that, according to reporter Alex Klein, “demanded that Israel hold talks with the PLO, immediately dismantle the then-new West Bank settlements, and pursue a loosely formulated two-state approach to resolve the conflict” with the Palestinians.
Rubin died of cancer on December 21, 1978. He was survived by his wife, Hazel, and by two children from a previous marriage to anthropologist Vera Rubin. Those were his son, Reed, and his daughter, Cora Weiss (who served as a longtime IPS board member).
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