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Kurt Marx

Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
18 January 1939
Interview number:


Dr Bea Lewkowicz

Date of Interview:

Interview Summary:

Kurt Marx, born in August 1925, is the only child of Siegmund and Irma Marx. His mother worked for an Haute Couture company (Hirsch& Cie) as dress designer in Cologne and his father was the manager of a men’s outfitters store (Rubens & Co. in Brückenstr. 17) in Cologne. Life under the Nazi regime forced his father to start his own wholesale business and his mother taught sewing to women who were about to emigrate. He remembers a happy childhood in Cologne with a large extended family. Sports played a major role in his young life and he was an avid member of Hakoah Cologne (one of his uncles was the chairman).

Kurt thinks he was very sheltered because he doesn’t recall antisemitism or his parents worrying. Although his family wasn’t observant he attended a Jewish primary school and later the famous Jawne Gymnasium. After the November Pogrom (Kristallnacht), 9th November 1938, the headteacher, Erich Klibansky, started organising to get Jawne students on the Kindertransport to England. Kurt remembers saying goodbye to his family in the belief that they would soon meet in England when his parents got the necessary documentation.

He arrived in England on 18th January 1939 and stayed at a hostel in London, sponsored by Walm Lane Synagogue. After the beginning of the war he was evacuated to Bedford where he was taken in with another boy by the Allan family. After he finished school at the age of 15, Kurt wanted to start working at a factory. This was interrupted by an appearance before a tribunal who decided Kurt was not an enemy alien.

He started repairing radios in a music shop in Bedford and earned extra-money as an usher at BBC Symphonic Orchestra concerts (stationed in Bedford during the war) and also brought tea to performers. He thinks this developed his love for classical music, which started with opera visits in Cologne and continued later in London where Kurt learnt how to build instruments. He helped with the war effort on a farm in Newport Pagnell, Buckinghamshire until the war ended and then started to polish diamonds in Hatton Garden. He met his wife, Ingrid, an Auschwitz survivor, at Bar Kochba, which he joined as he felt Maccabi was not keen on Continental Jewish members.

Ingrid and Kurt married in 1948 in the Dollis Hill United Synagogue and in 1955 they relocated to Tanzania for Kurt’s work. He evaluated and sorted diamonds, which were mined there. He remembers a diverse expat life in Accra. Shortly after the birth of his only son, Michael, the family returned to London where Kurt worked for the Tanzanian government in the diamond industry until he retired.

After the war he tried to find out what had happened to his parents, whose last letter he received in autumn 1942 in which they talked about their impending departure in July 1942. Many years later he found out that they were deported to Minsk and shortly after murdered in the forests of Maly Trostenec [now Belarus]. Kurt is the only survivor of his maternal family but he reconnected with paternal relatives who are dispersed all over the world. The first time he returned to Cologne was in 1954 to see his uncle. He returned years later to meet someone who organised Kurt’s trip to Maly Trostenec. He never imagined connecting with Germans but has made some German friends as they are “a different generation” and has returned to Cologne where he has also spoken in schools.

Kurt identifies as British and Jewish and thinks the trauma of childhood shaped him but didn’t stop him from living his life and having a positive outlook towards life. He is worried what will happen when contemporary witnesses have all gone and people might stop being interested in “these old stories”. He sees the powerful effect of his visits to German schools. Kurt fears antisemitism is returning and the only way to fight it is education. He hopes that people will learn to live in peace together and be tolerant because we are all the same: human beings.

Additional Comments:

Mentions a German documentary “Die vergessenen Kinder von Köln“ – which is about the same transport to Minsk his parents were on.

He also mentions a book by Dieter Corbach, Die Jawne zu Köln: zur Geschichte des ersten jüdischen Gymnasiums im Rheinland und zum Gedächtnis an Erich Klibansky, 1900–1942. Scriba, Köln, 1990. ISBN 978-3-921232-42-2]

Key words:

Cologne. Jawne School. Klibansky. Feodore Kahn. Hakoah Cologne. Kindertransport. Walm Lane Synagogue. Bedford. BBC Symphonic Orchestra. Newport Pagnell. Bar Kochba. Adi Manheimer. Dorice. Cosmo. Continental food. Tanzania. Diamond business. Maly Trostenec. Benno Marx (left winger uncle who founded the bank workers trade union in Germany, friends with Labour politicians Ellen Wilkinson, Aneurin Bavin, Ernest Bevin). Gudrun Hildebrandt (his uncle’s famous ballerina wife) . Lisa Jura, née Golabek (a pianist who lived in the same hostel for a while). Ludwig Spiro. Fritz Bauchwitz. Zigi Shipper.


Full Interview


Well Kristallnacht was in a way- yes, it’s- I went to school as normal on my bike. On the corner of our street was a- a- the toy shop. Which was there until fairly recently, strangely enough. It's been a toy shop all these years. Only recently has it been changed. When I came out, there was a- one of the glass windows- one of the windows had been smashed. Which- well it could have been an accident. I don’t know. I saw it. And there was- used to be a game called- English it’s called Ludo – “Mensch ärgere dich nicht”. And there was this thing flapping in the wind and it says: “Mensch ärgere dich nicht.” But I- I could still see it. When I get to school, go- commotion, smoke coming out of the building, teacher outside the school, “No school today.” Didn't know why. “Go home.” And- whatever. Well, you didn't have to tell a boy twice, “Go home. No school.” Wasn't such a pleasure for me, you know, that’s always- a day off is very good. So I thought, well, before I go home I’ll go and visit my uncle the butcher, you know, which is not very far from there. When I get there - completely destroyed. Windows smashed, inside there was a large shop with ma- all marble - smashed to small pieces. And then suddenly I said first the shop on the corner where we lived, then the school, now this. There’s something obviously wrong somewhere

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