Victor Kugler and Lucy Langen van Kugler’s headstone in Toronto. (Mary Anne Petrie photo)
One of the Righteous Among the Nations who helped hide Anne Frank lived a quiet life in Canada after the Second World War. Victor Kugler – a former employee of Anne Frank’s father, Otto, and one of the men who helped hide the Franks, the van Pels family and Fritz Pfeffer – emigrated to Toronto in 1955 and lived there until his death in 1981.
Kugler’s story may have been lost to history almost entirely, if not for a fortunate coincidence. Kugler often spoke to school children about his experiences during the war. Eda Shapiro, a retired teacher, heard about Kugler, invited him for tea and began a long friendship with him. Over the years, she collected Kugler’s anecdotes, in the hopes of writing a book about him.
Unfortunately, Shapiro died before she could complete the book, but her collection of Kugler’s stories, a series of notes kept in a brown paper bag, made its way to Rick Kardonne, by way of Shapiro’s husband, Irving Naftolin. Kardonne agreed to write the book and published Victor Kugler: The Man Who Hid Anne Frank in 2008.
“It took about 15 years to find out: Where was (Kugler) from? Who were his parents? Why did he do this?” said Eda Kardonne, Rick Kardonne’s wife. She is intimately familiar with Kugler’s story and agreed to be interviewed alongside her husband, who has been ill.
Kugler was born in Hohenelbe, Austria, and moved to the Netherlands when he was 20. He had been born out of wedlock – he doesn’t even have a father on his birth certificate – so when his mother married and started a new family, he was something of an outcast. Eda Kardonne thinks that might have been why he was so loyal to Otto Frank, who had employed him at his spice company and treated him with respect.
In 1941, when Jews were forbidden from owning businesses, Frank appointed Kugler to manage the spice company. When the family and their four acquaintances went into hiding in the attic at the top of the spice company’s building, Kugler helped them survive. When they were short on money, he would sell spices without registering the sales.
“He went on the black market at night and he found food and supported the family for two years,” said Eda Kardonne. “And when they were betrayed and they were taken out, Victor Kugler was also arrested and taken to a camp.”
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As Yad Vashem’s webpage on Kugler recounts, he was sitting at his desk on Aug. 4, 1944, when there was a knock on the door. Kugler opened it to see four policemen, who demanded a tour of the building. They made a beeline for the bookcase that housed the secret staircase to the attic and made Kugler lead them up.
“After having protected the Jews for 25 months, Victor was now being forced to take the Nazis to them,” reads the website. “Victor entered the living room and saw Mrs. Frank sitting there, motionless. ‘Gestapo,’ was all he said.”
Kugler was taken to the concentration camp at Amersfoort, but managed to escape while being transported. He returned to the town of Hilversum, in the Netherlands, and remained there until the end of the war.
Kugler’s first wife died right after the war. His second wife, Lucy van Langen Kugler, had a sister in Toronto, which is why they decided to move there. In Canada, Kugler’s doctor helped set him up as an insurance salesman, as he lacked transferable skills, and many local Jewish people made a point of buying their insurance from him.
“But here’s the rub,” said Eda Kardonne. “Victor Kugler … had no insurance. So when he died, his wife had to bury him and she couldn’t afford a marker for his grave.”
Finally, in 2011, decades after Kugler’s death, the Neighbourhood Interfaith Group raised funds to buy a headstone for Kugler and his wife. Members of the north Toronto multifaith organization found out about Kugler’s life because of Rick Kardonne’s book.
“I think Rick felt it was a mitzvah to rescue (Shapiro’s) book,” said Eda Kardonne.