I am eager to talk about this man. Firstly, because he will turn 98 this year. Secondly, he uses an umbrella only when it rains, but not to lean on it while walking, and thirdly, he will give odds to many advanced Internet users and does not put on glasses, when he looks up at the phone. And he is also a bewitching interlocutor, a fascinating storyteller who has retained not only a bright mind, memory, but also a subtle sense of humor. Sure, an acquaintance with such a person can be appreciated as a gift of fate.
His name is Kurt Marx. He was born in August 1925 in Cologne. Kurt’s parents, Irma and Siegmund Marx, were assimilated Jews. In their understanding they belonged to the people of Germany, sincerely believing that they were an integral part of the German culture.
Kurt Marx on a walk with his father Siegmund. Cologne, Germany, 1926
After Hitler came to power, they, like many in Germany, did not believe that this madman would hold long in power. Even when their son Kurt was ordered to quit the gymnasium (secondary school), that he attended, and go to a Jewish school, because there was no place for a Jew among Aryan children, they still harbored the illusion that this nightmare would end soon. Yet it didn’t end. It continued with pogroms in 1938. The Jewish Yavne school, where Kurt studied, was set on fire. Classes were stopped. The question of salvation arose. The parents applied to leave for the United States. But the situation deteriorated quite soon so significantly that the parents urgently decided to save their only son first. Meantime, a secret company was organized in Germany to carry Jewish children to England, the so-called Kindertransport. England at that time was the only country that agreed to accept Jewish refugees. Erich Klibanski, the director of the Jewish school, that Kurt attended, gathered the first group of children aged 5 to 17 to be sent to England. He planned to save all his students, but only 130 managed to emigrate. Among them was Kurt Marx.
The document of identity, issued to Kurt Marx, to come to England as part of the Kindertransport rescue action. 1939
In January 1939, Irma and Siegmund Marx farewelled their son, whispering to each other at the station: “See you in America!”. At this moment the 13-year-old boy did not know yet that he saw his parents for the last time. What befell the children to go through, being cut off from home, from their families, from everything that makes a happy childhood, is another story. Nevertheless, they survived, avoiding the suffering of the Holocaust and that matters. Until July 1942, Kurt received rare letters from his parents, which they sent to England through the Red Cross. The letters were limited to 25 words, including the address. Kurt knew from his parents’ letters that they were going to be moved from Cologne somewhere to the east, where they would be provided with housing and work, and that they had already bought train tickets, paying 50 Marx for each. In the last letter, the parents greeted Kurt on his birthday in advance, wishing him happiness and health. Then the letters stopped.
The last letter from the parents dated July 19, 1942. Kurt received it through the Red Cross at the end of August 1942. “Our dear, before our departure, we send you our most cordial wishes. Be healthy. Think about us. To you, beloved son, our hearty greetings on your birthday. Be diligent and bring joy to those around you. Your dad and mom.”
For many years, Kurt tried to find any information about what happened to his parents. All the searches were in vain. And only in 1995, thanks to the evangelical pastor Dieter Korbach and the lists he published, one could know about the fate of 1164 Jewish children, women and men deported from Cologne. The pastor has been thoroughly researching the history of the Jewish community of Cologne for decades, to learn the truth about the doom and disappearance of the Jews from that city. At the age of 70, Kurt Marx learned that when he was reading the last letter from his parents, they were no longer alive. The director of the school, Erich Klibanski, who had rescued his students, was also not alive. His wife, his children, his students who were late to emigrate, all of them, like thousands of other German and Austrian Jews, were killed in Maly Trostenets, Belarus. Only in 2011, Kurt had a chance to come to the place of the death of his parents. In those days there was no memorial there, there were no tourists coming, there was no one. Just overwhelming silence, emptiness and a sense of relief. “I’ve been waiting for so long. At last, I have found you, I’m here, by your side. Do you hear my tears? Do you see my thoughts? Do you feel my prayer?”
Kurt Marx at the place of his parents’ death. Maly Trostenets, 2017.
Later, Kurt came to the place more than once. In 2017, he was invited to Minsk to the opening of the traveling exhibition “Maly Trostenets Death Camp. History and Memory”, which was created thanks to the fruitful cooperation of the Historical Workshop named after Leonid Levin and the International Educational Center in Dortmund. When I talked with Kurt, he easily switched from English to German, which remained for him the language of childhood, the language he spoke with his parents, the language that his late wife, Ingrid, who had survived Auschwitz, also spoke. But more than a dozen years had to pass before Kurt was able to overcome himself and speak the language of those who deprived him of his parents and brought so much grief. Kurt also expressed a very interesting thought. He said, hate is also a faith. It does not require justification or confirmation. I believe because I believe. And someone chooses hate as faith. Jews often became victims namely of the hate as faith. If you are a Jew, then a priori you are hated even by those who have never seen Jews. It is dreadful that such a blind hate extends not only to the Jews. Who is the next? Who will be allowed to be slaughtered by the demons of intolerance, aggression and evil? Think! Don’t let it be! The
Holocaust seriously wounded Kurt, but also gave him the strength to live and show us, living today, that there is nothing more valuable than human life, creation, love and peace.
Kurt Marx at the traveling exhibition “Making History Together”, dedicated to the history of the Belarusian Jewish community. London, January 2023