One of the three children of a prosperous factory owner, Carl Klinger grew up in Uzhorod, in the far eastern tip of Czechoslovakia known as Carpatho-Ukraine (Ruthenia). His mother was from an Orthodox family, but the Klinger family was non-religious.
Carl was educated in Uzhorod and at a college in the nearby town of Munkacz, and learned to speak both Hungarian and Czech. He remembers that the various ethnic communities lived peacefully side by side. Carl went to Charles University to study Law and had passed two of his three examinations, when the Germans invaded Czechoslovakia in March 1939. Carl decided to escape to the West and left at once for England. He managed to secure exit papers by denying that he was Jewish to a Nazi official, and by getting an illegal train ticket from a friendly Czech clerk.
Carl’s family remained in Uzhorod, now under Hungarian rule. As his father had served in the Austro-Hungarian army in World War One, they were confident that no harm would come to them, and even urged Carl to return home.
Carl arrived in London via Holland and was supported by the Czech Refugee Trust Fund. He initially moved around but managed to settle down early in the war in an engineering job in a factory that made parts for submarines, in Park Royal, West London. There he met his future wife, a refugee from Vienna, and they married in 1948 in a registry office.
Carl’s father was deported to Auschwitz when the Germans occupied Hungary in 1944 and his brother died on the Eastern Front (in a Hungarian labour battalion). His mother as well as his sister and her family survived in Hungary, using false papers.
I had several telephone calls from home. “Do come home, everything is quiet here, and there is no reason why you should stay in Prague, because probably the war will break out soon.” They knew Hitler was coming. So I don’t know, I had an instinct. I think that is something that is quite- I still cannot explain it. I knew that I cannot go to East, I had to go to West.