Anne Frank's Toronto connection

  • November 18, 2010
 The Man Who Hid Anne FrankTORONTO - While the harrowing story of Anne Frank and her family’s struggle for survival against the Nazis during the Second World War is a well-known one, it’s safe to assume that few people know the story of Victor Kugler.

But it’s because of Kugler that we know the story of Anne Frank, the German-born, Netherlands-raised young Jewish girl who died at the hands of the Nazis, author Rick Kardonne told an audience of about 50 people Nov. 9 at a talk about his book, Victor Kugler: The Man Who Hid Anne Frank.

Held on the 72nd anniversary of Kristallnacht and the last day of Holocaust Education Week, the talk was hosted by the Neighbourhood Interfaith Group, a midtown ecumenical grouping of churches, at Grace Church-on-the-Hill.

“Kugler was principally responsible for the survival of the Frank family,” said Kardonne, who co-wrote the book with Eda Shapiro. (In The Diary of Anne Frank, Kugler is referred to as “Mr. Kraler.”)

Kugler, a Lutheran who would spend the last 26 years of his life in Toronto, where he died in 1981, worked at the spice importing company Opteka with Anne’s father Otto, the company’s president. As the Nazis stepped up persecution of Jews after occupying the Netherlands, the family went into hiding. The business was left for Kugler — who also concealed the Franks from the Nazis — to run.

“Victor Kugler became the de facto manager,” said Kardonne. “Otto Frank signed everything over to Kugler... Kugler continued to run the business and he continued to sell spices to Dutch people who were completely unaware that Jews were being hid upstairs.”

He also obtained food rations for the family, without which the Frank family would have starved a month after going into hiding. The situation continued for two years before the Franks were betrayed. The family was sent to concentration camps where all but Otto perished.

{sa 9652294101}It was the hardships Kugler faced in his Sudetenland homeland, because he was born out of wedlock, that contributed to his sympathy for Jews, said Kardonne.

“In Sudetenland (present-day Czech Republic), which was very socially reactionary, he was socially shunned as being illegitimate. So from his earliest days, he was the object of derision and distrust.”

For his involvement with the Franks, Kugler was sent to German slave labour camps, said Kardonne.

“He escaped from the last one three weeks prior to the British and Canadian liberation.”

Several years after the war, when the Dutch spice industry collapsed, Kugler emigrated to Toronto. He was honoured as a Righteous Gentile by Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Authority in 1972. In Toronto, he worked as a self-employed insurance salesman.

Kugler’s story impressed many in the audience.

“It’s an amazing story about a Lutheran businessman who refused to go along with the hateful oppression and murder of his friends by the Nazi regime,” said Bryan Beauchamp, chair of the Neighbourhood Interfaith Group. “He did what Jesus would have done. He protected them and he cared.”

Victor Kugler: The Man Who Hid Anne Frank was published in 2008. It is in the library and bookstore of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, the Imperial War Museum in London, the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, the Yad Vashem archives in Jerusalem, the New York University Library, the Sydney Jewish Museum and the University of New South Wales Library.

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