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  • Writer's pictureSpencer Fischler

Abraham Fischler, 78, Trader Who Revived a Diamond Mart

By Douglas Martin Sept. 17, 2003

Abraham Fischler, a diamond trader who returned to Antwerp, Belgium, after World war II to make the city a diamond center once again, died there on Sept. 9. He was 78.

The cause was a stroke, said Marcelle Fischler, his daughter-in-law.

Mr. Fischler, who owned a major diamond company, helped formulate the industry's response to the selling of rough diamonds to finance civil wars in Africa. Among other steps, the diamond buyers, working with the United Nations, would accept diamonds only from countries with strict controls on the trade.

As president of the World Federation of Diamond Bourses, in 2002 Mr. Fischler agreed that reforms were necessary, but emphasized that diamonds were not the only commodities being traded by rebels.

''Arms, oil, timber and a variety of other products are generating far greater sums than diamonds ever did, but it is only we that acted decisively,'' he said in a speech to industry leaders. ''I do not believe that the world has any right to point a finger in our direction again.''

Similarly, in 1986, Mr. Fischler, as president of the Antwerp Diamond Bourse, defended the industry's time-honored practices of secrecy and sealing a deal with a handshake. At the time, illegal black-market dealings rocked the industry.

In an interview with The New York Times, Mr. Fischler said then that ''customers must find a way'' to operate legally in order to preserve the time-honored system.

Mr. Fischler was born in Poland in 1925. When he was a year old, his family moved to Antwerp, where his father found work as a diamond peddler. At 15 he ran away from home and made his way to Portugal.

He spoke Portuguese, German, French, Flemish and Yiddish, and as a result was allowed to sail on a ship to Cuba to work as a translator between crew and passengers.

In Havana, the main diamond-cutting center during World War II, he found work as a cutter. After the war he returned to Belgium and found that his parents and five siblings had died in the Holocaust.

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Mr. Fischler started Fischler Diamonds with two orphaned cousins. It grew into one of the largest family-owned diamond-polishing and trading companies, one of the select group chosen to deal directly with the De Beers Group, the syndicate that largely controls the worldwide supply of diamonds.

Mr. Fischler is survived by his wife of 57 years, Hannah Lowy Fischler; his four sons, Serge, of Great Neck, N.Y., and Maurice, Josy and Michael, all of Antwerp; his daughter, Sylvie Spielman, of Greensboro, N.C., 16 grandchildren and 3 great-grandchildren.

Mr. Fischler often spoke of his pride in his industry's rituals.

''The diamond trade is based on trust and a handshake,'' he said in April in an interview with IDEX magazine, a trade publication. ''Someone's name should be considered as the highest standard. No other business on the planet can do that.''

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