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Kurt Wick

Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
May 1948
Interview number:


Dr Bea Lewkowicz

Date of Interview:

Interview Summary:

Kurt Wick, born Kurt Wickelholz in October 1937 in the 9th Bezirk of Vienna, was the second son of Moritz and Josefine Wickelholz. His father produced leather handbags with his brother. In 1938 his parents tried to emigrate. By chance a Jewish-Italian woman told Kurt’s uncle about the possibility of going to Shanghai. She helped them get tickets for a ship departing from Trieste.

On 28th August 1939 Kurt’s family and his uncle’s family arrived in Shanghai, where the local Jewish community had made provisions to help refugees, buying empty warehouses and schools in an area called Hongkew which were turned into housing for the refugees called “Heime”. When more refugees arrived, American Jewish aid organisations like the Joint and HIAS gave additional support. Kurt remembers that he was never hungry. His father had brought a sewing machine from Vienna and started making handbags which he mainly sold to the Japanese forces who occupied Shanghai. The family managed to move out of the “Heime” into their own house in an area called the “restricted sector”. Kurt and his brother went to the Kadoorie School and in the afternoons they played sport or went to the Talmud Torah.

After the end of the war, Kurt’s maternal aunt arranged for his family to come to London in 1948. She had come to England on a domestic visa. Kurt started his own handbag business after graduating from Hasmonean High School. One of his proudest achievements is that the Queen Mother bought one of his handbags as a Christmas gift for Queen Elizabeth. He met his wife Carol in the late 1950s, they got married and settled with their two daughters in North London.

Key words: Vienna. Wickelholz. Koslitschek. Trieste. Lloyd Triestino. Ship Giulio Cesare. Shanghai. Kadoorie School. Headmistress Lucie Hartwich. Heime. Hasmonean School. Sarah Klausner Synagogue. Mondaine handbags.


Full Interview


We didn't have any homes. We had no food, we had no money, we had nothing. Luckily for us there was a Sephardic community there from the 1850s. The Sassoons, the Kadoories & the Hardoons, about 700 Jewish Sephardim there. They owned most of the Bund, a lot of the properties, they had palatial houses. They decided to help. So, they bought up empty warehouses in an area of Shanghai called Hongkew, bombed in ’32 by the Japanese. Cheap primitive properties known as 'Heime'. Families lived separated by blankets, very little privacy. But at least they were safe. They set up food kitchens. I remember the rows of taps for washing. We had the basics of life & we had the Jewish Kadoorie School & 6 synagogues. Gradually, they set up committees to help as well. So we survived. As far as I remember, I was never hungry in Shanghai.

Things went quite well. People started founding businesses, coffee houses. They called it Little Vienna. My father started making handbags. He managed to get a little shop in East Yuhang Road. He made masks: the Japanese all wear masks. They made bomber heads for the Japanese in leather. They managed to make a bit of a living. They used the sewing machine from Vienna.

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