Henry Orenstein (born Henryk Orenstein; c. 1923)[1] is a Polish-American toymaker, professional poker player, and entrepreneur who resides in Verona, New Jersey. A survivor of the Holocaust who came to the United States as a refugee after the war, he holds more than 100 patents, including for the Transformers toyline. He made a fortune as a toy designer and manufacturer, and was inducted into the New Jersey Inventors Hall of Fame.

Henry Orenstein
ResidenceVerona, New Jersey, United States
BornHenryk Orenstein
c. 1923 (age 96–97)
Hrubieszów, Poland
World Series of Poker
Money finish(es)4
Highest ITM
Main Event finish
8th, 1995

In addition, he has played poker professionally in the United States for years, and in 2008 he was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame because of his consistent record and winnings.[2]

Early lifeEdit

Henryk (Henry) Orenstein was born c. 1923 in Hrubieszów, Poland to a Jewish family.[3] Raised in the Jewish faith, he was deported from his town to Nazi concentration camps, surviving five. spent much of the end of World War II in five concentration camps.[3] After the war, he emigrated to the United States.[3]

Orenstein, along with his three brothers and father, had initially fled to Olyka after the German army entered Hrubieszów in September 1939. The Orensteins lived in Olyka for two years before returning to their mother and sister in Hrubieszów.[4] Orenstein has explained during interviews that his family had built secret hiding spots between double walls, where they evaded authorities. Finally, having exhausted food and water supplies, they turned themselves in.

His parents were loaded onto trucks with other Jews and taken to a cemetery to be shot to death and buried. He and his siblings were transported to the Budzyń Prison Camp in southeastern General Government (occupied Poland), which was eventually incorporated as a sub-camp into Majdanek concentration camp. Orenstein and his brothers were also held at Płaszów in southwestern General Government under the infamous Amon Goeth. (He was portrayed in the film Schindler's List.) Orenstein and his brothers were later transferred to Ravensbrück concentration camp in Germany.

While at Budzyń, Orenstein had heard an announcement iver the loudspeaker one day that any scientists should register with the office. Figuring this would be a chance for survival, Orenstein signed up his brother and him, although neither had scientific training. By personal account, Orenstein has said that the Nazi German commanders figured out that some who had registered were not scientists, but went along with the ruse to allow them to remain in so-called "research positions" rather than be drafted into the Nazi German infantry.[5]

Business careerEdit

Orenstein and two brothers, Fred and Sam, survived the Holocaust. Their parents were murdered by Nazis in 1942, and their brother, Felix, and sister, Hanka, died during their final days of captivity in separate concentration camps at the end of the war. He emigrated to the United States aboard the USS Fletcher, a destroyer used to transport refugees. He joined their uncle on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

Initially finding work with the Libby's canned food company, one day Orenstein noticed a bride doll in a department store window display, on sale for $29.95. (He has said this would be equivalent to $200 in the early 21st century). He decided that he could make one that was more affordable. He became a toy manufacturer. After gaining success with his first dolls, he earned his first million dollars and founded Topper Toys. It produced such well-known toys as the "Suzy Cute" line of miniature dolls and the Johnny Lightning line of model cars.[5]

Orenstein is credited by former Hasbro CEO Alan Hassenfeld as "the catalyst" for Transformers existing: the man who convinced Hasbro to buy these funny looking Diaclone and Micro Change toys and repackage them as Transformers. [6] He holds more than 100 other patents. Aside from Transformers, the best-known of these inventions is U.S. Patent 5,451,054: a device to detect and display hole cards in poker games.


In a bid to make televised poker championships more interesting for the audience, Orenstein devised a way in which the players' face-down cards could be seen by the audience: by cutting a window into the tables at each player and having a piece of glass with a camera under it, the audience would be able to better appreciate the game play, while not disturbing the setting for the players. NBC Sports President of Programming Jon Miller said that Orenstein is "single handedly responsible for the success of poker today."[5]

Orenstein is the creator and an executive producer of the Poker Superstars Invitational Tournament on FSN. He also produced the popular TV Show High Stakes Poker, which ran from 2006-2007 and 2009-2011; old episodes can be seen in the United States on GSN.[7]

As of 2009, Orenstein's live poker tournament winnings exceed $200,000.[8] He was a 2008 inductee into the Poker Hall of Fame.[2] Orenstein was also inducted into the New Jersey Inventors Hall of Fame.

He won the $5,000 Seven-card stud tournament at the 1996 World Series of Poker (WSOP), earning $130,000 by defeating fourth-place T. J. Cloutier, third-place Cyndy Violette and runner-up Humberto Brenes. Orenstein twice had finished in the money in the $10,000 WSOP no limit Texas hold 'em main event: 12th in 1993 and eighth in 1995.

He came in seventh in the $2,500 Seven Card Stud event at the 2005 United States Poker Championship. Despite being the oldest competitor (at age 80), he won his first round of NBC's National Heads-Up Poker Championship against one of the best cash-game players in the world, Chip Reese. Orenstein lost in the second round to John Hennigan.


Orenstein is a noted philanthropist. In 1984, the American government built an eleven-story building for low income families. Orenstein helped pay for the apartment building and named it in honor of his parents: the Lejb and Golda Orenstein Building. He contributed most of the cost for a Lejb and Golda Orenstein Building in Kiryat Ono, Israel, which consists of housing units and recreational facilities.

Orenstein has his own chapter at the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty in New York. Over the past thirty years, Orenstein has assisted thousands of poor New Yorkers to pay their rent and medical bills.


  • I Shall Live: Surviving Against All Odds 1939-1945 (1987), a memoir of his experiences during the Nazi Holocaust and his survival in five concentration camps.[9]
  • Abram: The Life of an Israeli Patriot, a biography of Abram Silberstein, who emigrated to Palestine in 1934. He enlisted in the British Army in 1939, rising from the rank of private to major. He was a great help to Ben Gurion.


  1. ^ zczuba (June 16, 2007). "Z cyklu "Nieznani, a szkoda": Henry Orenstein". Agora SA.
  2. ^ a b Pokernews.com: Poker Hall of Fame 2008 Inductees Announced
  3. ^ a b c Jones, Abigail (December 21, 2016). "Meet Henry Orenstein, the Man Who Changed How the World Plays". NewsWeek. Retrieved December 30, 2016.
  4. ^ Orenstein, Henry (1987). I Shall Live: Surviving the Holocaust Against All Odds, 1939-1945. United States: Beaufort Books. pp. 64–70. ISBN 978-0825305979.
  5. ^ a b c Henry Orenstein, "The Man Who Taught America to Play"
  6. ^ https://tfwiki.net/wiki/Henry_Orenstein
  7. ^ West, Justin. "An Interview With Kevin Belinkoff". PokerPages.com. Archived from the original on May 31, 2008. Retrieved February 6, 2008.
  8. ^ Hendon Mob tournament results
  9. ^ Kent, Bill. "Holding His Own." New York Times. 28 May 1995.