by Ken Arkwright
Kenneth James Arkwright was born in Breslau, Germany, in April 1929. An only child, he lived in a large city apartment with his parents and grandparents. After the establishment of Nazi rule in 1933 they were forced to move to smaller and smaller apartments and rooms during the following years enduring the restrictive laws against the Jews. At the age of fourteen Ken was working at forced labour, initially in the Breslau Jewish cemetery where the young people had to dig graves and bury bodies that were delivered in paper bags.
In 1944 the family were deported east to a concentration camp but the Russian advance meant return to Germany. They escaped the transport and assuming false names worked as farm labourers in Halberstadt until the cessation of hostilities. On his return to Breslau, Ken studied and obtained his matriculation. He emigrated to Australia in 1949 where in time he became an accountant. In 1959 he married Judith Masel and joined her family's men's and boys' wear business. They have two married sons and three grandchildren. Ken has had a successful professional and business career as well as being a senior and respected member of the Jewish community in Western Australia.
I have had three names, even four names. My original name was Klaus Aufrichtig. Then Hitler legislated that all Jewish people had to adopt the additional given-name of Israel for boys, and Sarah for girls. And so my name became Klaus Israel Aufrichtig. When I lived underground during the last few months of the war and needed an assumed name, I called myself Klaus Schneider. After the war the German government nullified the Jewish naming law, and so my name reverted to Klaus Aufrichtig.
When I arrived in Australia I called myself Ken Arkwright, although I still had to use the name Klaus Aufnchtig for legal documents until I became an Australian citizen. I changed my name legally by deed poll to Ken Arkwright for two reasons: Ken Aufnchtig was impossible because of its complex spelling and it was also an impossible name to pronounce in an English speaking country; secondly, after the war, Western Australia still had very much a British colonial attitude and the acceptance of post-war European immigrants was initially resented. So a new name seemed expedient.
The first five years of my growing up in Breslau was in the pre-Hitler period of the Weimar Republic. My grandfather built up a factory manufacturing ladies overcoats which supplied much of Central Europe. It was a very substantial business. My father was involved in a shoe retail business with over two hundred branches in Germany, and with its own shoe factory. I recall that we lived in a large luxurious apartment and I was spoiled by the many servants who worked there, the joiner who once a year polished all the antique furniture, the man who cleaned the carpets and the lady hairdresser who came to attend to my grandmother's hair every day. There was a washerwoman who would come once a month and after the washing was done, the sewing lady would come to do the mending. We also had a live-in maid and a nanny who looked after me when I returned home from kindergarten. I was an only child and my grandparents lived with us. In 1933, the first thing that happened was that Jews and non-Jews alike could only get apartments with the blessing of the Housing Commission, because there was a great housing shortage, and only get employment with the agreement of the Labour Exchange, because there was an acute shortage of jobs.
In those post-depression years Germany was in a very bad economic situation. Another early decree of Hitler put restrictions on the amount of money Jewish people could take out of their bank account. The affect on the Jews was that if they were without a job, money in the bank did not help, as they had no access to it, except a very restricted amount. I remember this very luxurious type of living was quite common within the Jewish community of Breslau which had been in existence for about nine hundred years. The decline commenced as Jews could no longer pay for their homes and were dismissed from their jobs.
My grandfather's firm had to be sold to a non-Jewish enterprise with non-Jewish owners. So the fate of German Jews in early Hitler times was that they had to move from place to place; they had to live where they were ordered. Obviously they could not fit all their belongings into the smaller dwellings, and so there began a wholesale selling of personal property to get some money and to get rid of excess property and belongings.
Hitler had come to power in January 1933. but matters started to deteriorate in earnest when President Hindenburg died. While Hindenburg was still alive Hitler had some difficulties in establishing himself, but harassment started, and from 1934 we went down a slippery slide.
I started school at five years of age. but before that I went to a Montessori kindergarten. I was interested in all things happening around the house and in all the people, the many servants that helped to maintain it. I suddenly became aware that we were going from one smaller place to another even smaller place and that everybody, was talking all the time about getting rid of this and that and debating how to sell the many things we owned. There were twenty-five thousand Jews in the city of Breslau who were all wanting to sell their belongings at the same time.
I don't remember a sense of fear at that young age. I lived in a very sheltered home and there were quite a number of German friends who were supportive. For instance, my father served in the Germany army in the first World War for four years, from day one to the last day of the war He was wounded four times and each time returned to the front for active service. Despite having been highly decorated, the Nazi newspaper would not take advertisements from his firm. His World War I commanding officer kicked up a major fuss stating that someone who had done so much for Germany in World War I should not be treated like this, and as a result of this intervention, the paper accepted advertisements for a further six months. But let me go back again to my early years of growing up...
My grandparents when they first got married kept a kosher home. My great grandparents, who are buried in Breslau, would only eat from separate plates when they visited in spite of the fact that my grandfather kept a kosher home. My grandfather, a self-educated man, was very much part of communal life. He was involved in the building of the Breslau Liberal synagogue which had close to three thousand seats, a building like St Paul's Cathedral, overlooking the entire city.
My grandparents were not regular synagogue-goers but I do remember my grandfather standing with his yamulka near the window at home, regularly saying his evening prayers. They did a lot of charitable work within B'nei B'rith Lodge. Theirs was a very liberal home, conscious of matters Jewish, but not so much concerned about the formal day-to-day observances. I went to a Jewish kindergarten and then a private school. After the enactment of the Nuremberg Laws, Jews could go to no other but a Jewish school.
In Breslau the Jewish day school was not of major importance to the community as most Jews went to state schools. But there did exist a Jewish day school with a Zionist background. It was well appointed and fitted out. This particular school was developed during the Hitler period and everybody had to go there. Without the rise of Hitler and Nazism I don't know whether or not I would have gone to this Jewish day school. In Germany, you go for the first four years to a pre-school, then to a gymnasium or an oberrealschule. The gymnasium has a classical educational bias, the oberrealschule a scientific bias. After the first four years I would probably have gone to one of the more famous German schools, but by the time I had done my four years pre-school, there was no longer an option and I had to go to the Jewish school.
After my first year at the Jewish high school, all Jewish high schools had to be closed and Jews were only allowed to go to a Jewish primary school. In 1942 schooling was totally prohibited for Jews, and so school ended for me. The Jewish community then had difficulties caring for all its children.
We weren't wearing the yellow star yet, that came later, but by that time park benches in Germany were stencilled not for Jews, so old people were unable to sit in public parks. Many holiday resort towns had signs This place does not wish to have Jews as guests. Most shops were sign-marked Jews are not welcome in this store and so out-of- bounds for Jewish people. If anybody Jewish went into such a store and the Gestapo should hear about it, they would be sent to prison. I remember a schoolmate of mine buying an ice-cream in a shop. it must have been in 1940 or thereabouts, which carried the sign Not for Jews. He was taken by the Gestapo to their headquarters. His parents did not know to where he had disappeared. After a while they were informed that he had been taken into police custody because he had contravened the wishes of the shop owner and had trespassed. The Gestapo notified his parents that he had died in custody. They just received a little tin box containing his ashes.
These were the consequences for small transgressions and it was an enormous worry to the Jewish community. What could be done with all the children at a loose end while their parents worked? The community solved the problem by making us work at the Jewish cemeteries. Breslau had two very old Jewish cemeteries and we spent our time tending to the graves of people whose next of kin had emigrated. There was a labour camp close to Breslau where Polish Jews worked. Periodically a truckload of paper bags with bodies in them would be delivered to the Jewish cemetery. We kids had to dig graves to bury them. The Jewish camp mates of the victims would, whenever possible, put the name of the deceased in Hebrew letters on the paper bag and these names were then put into the registry of the Jewish cemetery in Breslau. At least in this way there was a name recorded, for some of them anyway. I was about thirteen years old at that time.
Initially Hitler sought to legitimise the persecution of the Jewish people and passed the Nuremberg Laws as a legal basis for this saying, the persecution of the Jews was the will of the German people, which had to be documented and supported by laws. So during the years from 1933 until the middle of the war a great number of laws supporting Jewish persecution were passed defining what Jews could or could not do.
I recall some of my personal experiences. When my father had to relinquish involvement in his everyday employment, he was obliged to report to the German Labour Exchange which allocated work to him. He, together with many Jews from Germany and Austria, was sent to northern Germany to build autobahns. Quite a few of these beautiful motorways were built by Jewish slave labour; most of the workers, including my father, had never done this type of work before. I remember my father was away from home for a long time and in this way, as early as 1934 and 1935, Jewish families were torn apart.
In 1934 a conflict of laws arose. Jewish children had to go to school but not together with non-Jewish children. In larger communities Jewish orphanages were converted into children's homes to accommodate Jewish children from the country so they could go to schools in the bigger Jewish communities. At that time my father was recalled to Breslau to work as a teacher in such a children's home.
In order to travel by railway Jewish people had to get permission from the Gestapo. So children from the country living in the children's home in Breslau could not visit their parents, neither could the parents visit them. Many families did not see their children for years perhaps until they were all deported to concentration camps. All the girls and boys in the children's home were eventually sent to extermination camps and at least 95 percent of them disappeared, never to be heard of again.
The children's home in Breslau also housed a Jewish museum covering the history of the Jews in Silesia dating back to about the year 1000. The art treasures in this museum were seized by the Gestapo, although some were saved, because they hoped to sell them off in exchange for foreign currency abroad.
To use public transport was also difficult as Jews were not allowed to use a tram without permission and even if you received permission from the Gestapo, you were not allowed to sit down but only to stand in the front part of the second carriage of the tram. Usually there were Nazis also riding in this part of the tram who made the journey most uncomfortable. When I went to work in the Jewish cemetery, a fair tram ride away from where we lived, it was sometimes necessary to get off the tram two or three times, because it was just too uncomfortable, and I had to catch the next tram, which made the journey both arduous and expensive.
We had one apartment after another, each one worse than the one before. At some stage we lived in a five-roomed apartment, sharing it with five families. In each room there was one family. The use of electricity and gas was also restricted so no one used lamps brighter than fifteen watts. In rotation each family would be in charge of turning off the electric mains when the daily quota of electricity was used. Usage in excess of our quota would have had a most adverse effect, so it was better to sit in the dark than to have the supply of power and gas cut off altogether.
Food was rationed for all Germans during the war, but ration cards for Jewish people were always stamped with the word Jew. We were only allowed to use them in specially allotted shops, and many of the ration stamps were cancelled for Jewish people, giving us a greatly reduced food supply. In our family the slices of bread were counted out, so that each day we would not eat more than the allotted amount.
All Jewish people had to do forced labour in Breslau - I worked in a chemical factory. I was fourteen years old and had to unload rail trucks containing heavy bags of calcimine. I learned French that way as we worked together with French prisoners of war. Often they took pity on us and I would find some chocolate or potatoes in my pocket which they had pinched. It was a rather frightening experience, because if I would have been found with food in my pocket, I probably would have been blamed for having stolen it at the railway station, and this would have had terrible consequences. So we were torn between the lesser of two evils: to throw away the food which they gave us, or take the risk of carrying it home to eat.
It is sad to talk about the burning of the synagogues on Kristallnacht. I recall this event very distinctly. It happened during the night of 9-10 November 1938. I was with a friend, the son of the last rabbi of the Breslau Jewish community, and we spent a lot of time playing in his home which overlooked the huge synagogue building. The night before the synagogue was burnt, a non-Jewish friend and comrade of my father's from the First World War called on my parents warning them that a pogrom would take place. He suggested that in the middle of the night we should go into one of the city parks and wander around so that my father would not be picked up from the streets and sent to concentration camp. My father said to his friend "Look, we have been in the First World War on the Russian and the French fronts as soldiers, and I'm not running away, and I'm not interested in such nonsense."
The next morning I went to school and on the way found to my delight that a Jewish lolly shop had been smashed and all the lollies and chocolates were lying in the street, you could just pick them up. We were soon to find out that all Jewish stores in the city had been vandalised. We were quickly sent home from school. My father had gone into the city, where he still worked at a Jewish-owned shoe shop to try and claim for the damage. My mother sent me into the city to see whether I could find him, because it was safer for children to walk around than for adults.
Finally, we all came together in our home and spent the rest of the day walking in a nearby park until nightfall. When we returned to our flat we found that many Jewish men in the building had been arrested and taken away by the Gestapo. A cousin of my father's was among them and had been taken to Buchenwald. He returned a fortnight later so beaten up that he died shortly afterwards in the Breslau Jewish hospital. The large and well-equipped hospital was soon commandeered and given to the German army. As the community was dismantled the care of the sick who needed to be hospitalised took place in private flats.
Despite all this, there were isolated examples of people's kindness to us. My father told me that in 1934 when he was associated with a major shoe store, the Nazis used to come around on Boycott Day with trucks and round up and beat Jewish proprietors and staff. In one of the shops nearby the Nazis took the store's Jewish manager, paraded him around in the street, took off his braces and drove him around with his trousers slipping down, mocking and humiliating him. When the Nazis came to my father’s store, the entire staff, most of whom were non-Jewish, gathered at the door and when they were asked Where is the Jew Aufrichtig?” replied “He is not here and you are not coming in, we are looking after the store. If you want to buy something, we will sell you something." The entire staff protected my father.
As I've said on the one hand we could be hassled on the tram. but on the other hand, sometimes I would find some food ration stamps in my coat pocket This was a most welcome gift, because it was very difficult to buy much food in the shops which were allocated for Jewish people.
One of the ways Jewish children were kept occupied and off the streets was carrying food to elderly people from the Breslau Jewish communal kitchen. One of the people to whom I brought food was the conductor of the choir at the main liberal synagogue in the city. The synagogue had for many years a professional choir of over sixty people. The conductor’s wife was a concert pianist. For a long time I went to them every day to take them food from the communal kitchen, and on one day he wanted to give me a gift of money. It was not much, but I just did not feel right to take it. He became quite determined making me accept it. The next day when I came to deliver the food, their room was sealed. He and his wife had committed suicide by opening the gas jets in their little room. They must have been in their late seventies or early eighties.
There were a great number of suicides in the community. Every time a transport deporting Jews to the east left the city many people who did not want to die in the camp died by their own hand. I used to help carry the luggage for people at the rallying point from which they were taken to the trains to concentration camp. I remember a whole family committing suicide at this time. The organist of the Jewish liberal synagogue together with his wife, son and daughter, who was a nurse, committed suicide with sodium cyanide, a commodity very much in demand.
When the deportation started in Breslau in 1942-3, few people suspected what was to come. At the time we lived in a flat with another Jewish family by the name of Korngrun. In the early hours of the morning there was an enormous thundering knock on the front door "Open up. Gestapo." When my mother opened the door the Gestapo called out "Where is the Jew Korngrun?" The family came out of their room and the Gestapo officers ordered them to get ready for transport to the eastern part of Germany to work. They were told to leave behind the sewing machine and any tools such as an axe, a spade or a shovel. They were assured that the rest of their belongings would follow them later. They were told to take sufficient food for twenty-four hours then their room was closed with the Gestapo seal.
I helped the Korngruns carry some of their belongings and cases to the rallying point, a public dance hall in Breslau. There we found about a thousand Jewish people, all packed and bundled up. Some were dressed as though they were going to a holiday spa, rather than to work. I was sent away. Most of the transports which left Germany to go to the east have been reasonably well documented by the Gestapo, but the final destination of this very first one has not been recorded. From all reports the people were gassed in the trucks through the exhaust pipe. No one ever came to pick up the sewing machine and the tools.
We rang the Jewish community office asking what we could do to make sure that the tools were collected and sent to the Korngruns. A while later the tools were finally collected by the same Gestapo officers who came before. We had to stay in our room while they unsealed the room of the Korngrun family. They packed up everything in the room, picked what they wanted for themselves and carted the rest away. Only then did we begin to think that maybe our friends did not go to work after all. Was this the way to deal with their property? It became of enormous concern to us as to how the Korngrun family would ever see their belongings again, or what may have happened to them. After this first transport, deportation of the Jews became a fairly common occurrence.
The Jewish community had to provide the names and addresses of the people to be deported. The selection criteria seemed to have been the following: people with lots of property and money were sent first as he Nazis wanted to acquire their wealth as quickly as possible; also people who were unable to work and lived on social services were sent away as a priority, so that the German government could relieve itself of this burden; people capable of working were the last to leave.
Families where the man had been in active service in the first World War were also given a little consideration, and perhaps this is one of the reasons why I am still alive. My father's First World War service record may have given us some time before being sent away. For a time a lot of Jewish people used to wear their war medals to prove that they had given service to the German government but this was eventually prohibited.
There were all kinds of harassment. Gold, silver and jewellery had to be delivered to the Nazis. Many other kinds of property had to be given up, such as stamp collections, bicycles, fur coats and pets. I had a goldfish and my parents could not decide whether the goldfish was a domestic animal or not. The goldfish had to go. Jews were also not allowed to keep dogs, as they were hindering the Gestapo in their endeavours. It was a planned, steady progression of stripping Jewish people of everything.
Before the war there was increasing urgency to emigrate. It didn't matter where. Emigration was the theme of discussion at all times. However the question was 'Where to go?' Australia was not terribly helpful with emigration. Landing money was required. German Jews had their bank accounts frozen and also had to leave a great percentage of what they owned behind. There was a special tax Jews had to pay on leaving Germany and so they left the country impoverished. Between 1933 and 1939 Australia accepted eight thousand Jewish refugees.
The position with the United States of America was only marginally better. American emigration was based on a quota system, only a limited number of people per year were allowed to emigrate. We had relatives in Holland and my parents debated whether they should send me with a 'children's transport' on my own to the family in Holland. Quite a number of Jewish children from Germany did emigrate in this way. My parents finally decided, whatever was going to happen, it would be safer if I were with them. This again saved my life, because when the Nazis entered Holland, most of the German Jewish children who were sent there were quickly sent to concentration camps where the majority perished.
At the beginning of 1944 I was sent from Breslau into a labour camp. By that time the Russian front had collapsed and in this particular camp, like in many camps along the rivers of eastern Germany, the inmates had to build tank traps. We had to work in the forest to cut down trees and dig large ditches. The winter of 1944 was extremely cold and conditions were harsh, with little food. We stayed there until the sound of the approaching Russian guns. We were then marched from the labour camp to the concentration camp of Gross Rosen.
During this march we could guess what was to come. We marched during the night because during the day the streets were crowded with fleeing civilians and the German troops moving towards the front. On the side of the road we saw people from the concentration camps in eastern Germany for the first time.
The difference between labour camps and concentration camps was that in the labour camps there were no executions. Nevertheless many people died of malnutrition, overwork and disease. In the labour camp I got scarlet fever and with it came all kinds of complications, requiring a blood transfusion. Jews were not allowed to receive Aryan blood so the only way I could get a transfusion was to find somebody who was willing to give me Jewish blood, a rather tall order to ask undernourished people fighting for their lives. I finally got a blood transfusion from my father who was also in the labour camp. Soon after we had to walk about two hundred and fifty kilometres to a concentration camp, where fortunately we stayed only a short while. Along the way we took shelter in some of the German houses which had been abandoned by families fleeing into central Germany. It was a rather strange atmosphere as we came through the villages because the Germans left behind many farm animals in the stable and you could hear hundreds of cows screaming in pain because there was no one to milk them.
There was not much time to philosophise or think about our fate, other than to try and survive from day to day. Shortly after our arrival in concentration camp the SS guards were moved away and the camp was left to be run by the Hitler Youth and old German people. They put us on the remaining trains to send us back to the nearest concentration camp inside Germany. We were ordered to report to the Gestapo as soon as we left the train but my father and I fled and sought shelter with friends in a little place called Halberstadt. They took us in and clothed and fed us at risk to their own lives.
The city of Halberstadt was a beautiful medieval Germany city which at that time was almost totally preserved. It was a city of sixty thousand inhabitants. The very first night we arrived there was a massive air raid. That night about 60 percent of the city was destroyed and thousands of people died. It suddenly dawned on us and our friends that there was no way we could go into the air raid shelter because everyone knew everybody else. So my father and I stood at the window, watching 60 per cent of the city burning down and blowing up, just wondering whether a bomb would drop on us or not.
The air raid was our good fortune. Everybody in the city who had no home went to the railway station and got a provisional identity card. We went there and they asked us for our names. We gave false information, received newspapers and were put on a train to Bavaria, fortunately for us a very remote part high in the mountains, and there we worked as farmers.
My mother was still in Breslau. The Jewish community had dwindled to a little over one hundred people. She told me after the war that the remnant of the Jewish community was put on big river barges and the plan of the Gestapo was to put these barges into the middle of the River Oder and blow them up. The plan misfired as the Russians on the other side of the river thought it was a military operation and a big artillery battle resulted. The following day the Jewish community was told to report to the Gestapo. About thirty or forty of them did so and were shot outside the city. This happened just a few days before the end of the war. For those last few days my mother hid in a coal cellar in the city.
The war ended for me in Bavaria. I was so elated to see the American troops coming in a big column that although everyone was hiding in the buildings, I stood there trying to welcome them. In retrospect it was a foolish thing to do, they could have thought I was a German trying to shoot at them and trained their rifles at me.
The first person who came towards me was an American soldier who wanted to know what I was doing out in the open. I told him that I was a Jew living here under a false name. He told me that he was Jewish and his family had emigrated from Germany. Now he lived in New York. "Don't go anywhere", he said "Just continue to live under your false name. There are still German troops in the forest. Wait until we have established a permanent administration."
My father was still with me. Shortly after the war I was in the American army hospital for some time with typhoid. The Americans gave us an American identity card to enable us to go back to Breslau to find my mother. However, the Russian troops would not allow us to pass over the River Elbe into the Russian zone of Germany. We took the risk of being shot and crossed the River Elbe in a small canoe at night time. At the other side the Russian troops received us. The Elbe is a fairly wide and strong flowing river. As soon as the Russians took care of us, they asked us whether we had some wrist watches which they wanted to requisition from us. We could not oblige. We then stayed for a while in Berlin, trying to proceed to Breslau which by that time had been annexed by Poland. Again we had a similar experience. We went to the Russian army command and got a pass to go to Breslau. The Russian officer asked "What are you?" I kept on saying Jewish, so he finally worked out that we were Jews. He then asked "Where did you live, where did you come from?" I showed him the city of Breslau on the map, which was called Wroclaw on his map. As a result he gave us Russian army passes describing us as Polish Jews.
When we arrived in Breslau we found my mother. Of the original Jewish community of twenty-four thousand, perhaps thirty, forty, maybe fifty people remained. The orthodox synagogue was still standing, although it had been totally vandalised. It had been built by the son of the architect who built the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. To the best of my knowledge the synagogue is still standing but there are no Jews left to use it.
Breslau was destroyed. Russian and Polish troops were fighting one another in the streets, so there was no point in staying there. Prisoners from Buchenwald had been brought in buses to Breslau, and the remnant of the Jewish community of Breslau took these buses and went to the city of Erfurt Here I did my matriculation after a lot of hard work studying day and night.
When we arrived in Erfurt, the American troops retreated and the city became part of the Russian zone. We were unlucky again! This move was in accordance with the agreement of the Yalta Conference. So we found ourselves in the Russian zone of Germany. My father was employed by the government of Thuringia to look after Jewish restitution. The government quickly decided that according to communist doctrine it did not make any difference whether the capitalists were Jewish or non-Jewish. They believed that all property in the district belonged to the people of the German Democratic Republic. The Jewish Restitution Department was quickly liquidated. My father was then transferred to the Department of Economic Planning. A colleague of his was a young man by the name of Erich Honegger and I remember meeting him on many occasions. He was later to be the last German head of state of the German Democratic Republic in East Germany.
After gaining my matriculation I went on to study medicine, having the option of studying in Leipzig or Berlin, but it was obvious that my future was not in Germany. At that time everybody who studied in Germany had to take one compulsory subject called 'Social and political problems of the present'. This particular subject was a regulator, determining who would be allowed to finish their academic career. It did not matter how brilliant you were in your normal studies, this subject was to test whether or not you were politically reliable.
It became clear to me that I had either to sell myself to communist East Germany, or leave the country, so I planned to emigrate. I would have preferred to have gone to America because Australia appeared to be too far away and somewhat backward. To get to America was much more difficult as everybody from Europe wanted to go there. My Australian emigration papers came first and so I went to Australia.
The first problem was that I had no hard currency to pay my fare as East German currency was not acceptable anywhere. So I had to rely on UNRRA to pay my fare. Secondly, emigration to Australia favoured people willing to go to work in the countryside and so I entered Australia as a chicken farmer although I never went to work on a chicken farm.
The third problem was, there was a shortage of shipping to Australia. I went to Paris to wait for a passage on a liner. Everybody else wanted to go to Italy and all boats from Italy were overcrowded, so it was suggested to me that going to Paris and perhaps sailing from Marseille would be easier. But it was not to be. I went from Paris to Genoa in the end, and from there took a ship to Australia.
I was twenty years old when I arrived in Australia in 1949. This presented yet another problem because the differential between the wage for a person aged twenty and twenty-one was quite enormous, so no one wanted to engage a twenty year old, knowing that very shortly the wages were going to increase considerably.
On arrival I stayed for a while with my father's cousin who had sponsored me. My English was not really very brilliant. I was taken to Jewish community gatherings at the Princes Hall and people were very friendly and talked to me but I understood very little.
To remedy the situation I started reading books, and I looked up every single word I did not know. Every day I would read many pages in the books ad the following day leam the words I had extracted. My first job was wth the post office as a postman in Maylands, after which I joined Shimenson & Company, an army surplus store. The owner was ageing and I looked after the mail order service and began buying and selling.
I was totally independent of help from the Jewish community, and I repaid all the money for my passage to Australia. As my English improved I studied accountancy, then cost accountancy and then; for an associateship in commerce. I did all this by correspondence because it took too long to do it in classes. I managed to condense a five year course into three years.
When Shimenson's was sold I. left that firm and did some country travelling for a wholesale merchant, mainly in the wheatbelt towns of Western Australia. At that time a recession occurred in Australia and the firm was rather shaky. Then I finished my studies and joined Hadfields WA Ltd..a steel foundry, first as a purchasing officer and later on as a cost accountant. After I had worked there for some time and had been accepted into the appropriate professional institute, I was offered a position with Rheem Australia Pty Ltd as an assistant accountant looking after their costing system.
My parents were still in East Germany. I wrote to them under a false name because the mail from abroad was often checked and I did not want to endanger them as I was a fugitive from East Germany. When my father used to go to Berlin for the East German government he always posted the letters to me from there.
My parents eventually emigrated but they also had difficulties leaving East Germany..They left all their belongings behind and went on a Business trip to Berlin* where they crossed over to West Berlin and freedom. Finally a year later I managed to get my parents to Australia and we lived in a small Hat in Burtway near the city of Perth. Alter working for Rheem for some time I met and married Judith Masel. I joined Worth's family-owned business, retailing men's and boys' wear, where I am now a director.
I have always been involved with Jewish communal activity in Perth and was instrumental in establishing three Jewish organisations. The first was the West Australian Jewish Students Group, which I formed together with Mervyn Lewis and Wally Hyams.
The second was Temple David congregation of which I was a foundation member. The progressive Jewish community was formed to provide an alternative to the long established orthodox community. I acted as an honorary cantor of this congregation for about thirty years. The foundation of Temple David came about for several reasons. The first was that a number of migrants who came to Perth perhaps felt a little left out from the established Jewish community and preferred to do their own thing, rather than play second fiddle in the organisations of the establishment. Secondly, many of these migrants were used to an alternative form of worship, and they wanted to practise a more liberal and modem form of Judaism. Thirdly, there was a common denominator, a common background, and the congregation served as a meeting place for European refugees and migrants from England and the United States. It was perhaps a more pleasing way to find their own social platform although initially there was a fair amount of opposition within the Jewish community.
The third organisation was the B'nei B'rith Lodge. My grandparents had been members of B'nei B'rith in Breslau. After the war some members of the lodge in America found our names on a register and learning that we were living in the Russian zone of Germany, assisted us with food parcels. This particular endeavour was called 'The Forgotten Tribe'.
I have been involved in Australian business life lecturing at the Australasian Cost Accountants Convention, serving as president of the Retail Traders Association of Western Australia, and being active in retail education. I also represented the Western Australian government at the Asian Productivity Council in Tokyo and lectured on information technology at an International Retail Conference in Copenhagen. I have written on the Holocaust in both English and German in British and Israeli publications, and I have translated two books of modern German poetry, recently published in Australia and Germany.
Looking back, I .have no regrets. I look forward to tomorrow. Yesterday is always interesting but tomorrow is vital. I do not feel bitter. If I have any bitterness it is against the criminal element in German society which inflicted pain on both the Jewish and general European communities, I believe that the majority of people are kind everywhere.
I have been back to Germany on numerous occasions. I don't think I would necessarily like to live there. The generation which initiated the persecution has nearly died out and there is a new generation. But to live in Germany for a Jew who has lived through the Holocaust is somewhat like living in a cemetery.
There are too many memories and monuments which are a burden to cope with. I would be just as much at home in Europe as anywhere else in the world, but I have settled and my life in Australia is to me a very special part of our most interesting world.
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Breslau Home Page
Breslau - A Brief History
Without Regret by Ken Arkwright
Ken Arkwright, OAM