Holocaust Survivor Kurt Gutfreund

Kurt Gutfreund

Kurt Gutfreund (born January 6, 1938, Vienna, Austria}, where he lived with his parents. His father was a goldsmith; his mother a salesclerk. The Germans arrested his father, in May 1942; he was taken to near Minsk (Belarus) and immediately murdered. Kurt and his mother escaped since they were not home when the Gestapo arrested his father. Kurt and his mother managed to hide for several months but were captured by the Germans on January 6, 1943 and sent to Theresienstadt.

There, Kurt’s mother worked splitting mica, used in armaments and electronics. Kurt’s aunt, his mother’s older sister, Erma, left Germany in 1939, and went to Columbia, then in 1946, to Chicago. Their young sister, Renee, (nine years younger) and raised as a Catholic, as demanded by their father, worked for a successful lawyer and remained in Vienna for the duration of the war. Because of her position, she was able to send periodic packages to Kurt and his mother. The two women worked out a system where Kurt’s mother would include requests for specific items as the middle name of the addressee on the “thank you” postcards she would write whenever a package would arrive. They had their own room and a small stove on which to cook. While Kurt’s mother was at work, he played with other children. Kurt and his mother were liberated by the Russian Army on May 8, 1945.

After liberation, they returned to Vienna, resuming life. At fourteen, he decided to quit school, but his mother insisted that he learn a trade. Kurt was apprenticed as an optician. At the same time, he applied for a United States visa. In May 1958, as he finished his training, he was notified that his visa was approved and at the age of 20, Kurt crossed the Atlantic, settling in Chicago. 

In Chicago, Kurt worked at the department store, eventually becoming a buyer; he left to work for an children’s wear wholesaler; he began traveling overseas to purchase directly from the sources when he realized that more goods were coming from overseas. He ultimately purchased the entire operation, operating it from 1980 until 2002.

Kurt has a son and two daughters and two granddaughters. Kurt feels that he has lived the American dream, arriving as a poor immigrant and becoming a successful businessman while raising a family of which he is very proud.