Konrad Ludwig Markus Blumenfeld was born 12th November 1921, in Berlin, Germany. His father Kurt was an engineer and ran his own factory manufacturing agricultural machinery. All of Konrad’s extended family lived in Berlin for some years prior to the First World War. Konrad’s Mother’s (Fanny Wagner ) family originally came from the province of Posen in northern Germany, his Father’s side of the family came from Upper Silesia, both regions became part of Poland. He and his older sister - Maja only had one cousin on one side of the family – Gerhardt Wagner who later came to live in NZ as did Konrad and his family.
Konrad remembers his early childhood fondly. His family lived in a small suburb of Berlin and were financially stable before the start of the Great Depression. There weren’t many Jewish families who lived nearby, and to the envy of some of their neighbours; they owned a large house and garden, and employed a maid. Konrad and Maja both attended the local Protestant primary school. The school did provide them with education in Judaism, as a Jewish lady teacher came from the city once a week to give them lessons.
He remembers the first time he saw a picture of Hitler in 1933 which frightened him, and first heard his speeches and that of Goring on the radio. For an 11 year old boy – life became very frightening. He heard stories of the violence of the Kristallnacht. Then overheard talk from the adults that a family friend and Jewish Doctor was taken away by the Gestapo, interrogated and feared killed. He heard his parent’s talk of the future and what decisions they needed to make. Many at the time thought the hysteria would only last for 1-2 years and be over. His parents however, already had ideas of leaving Germany.
With his Father’s business failing in the early years of the Depression and then being informed by a good friend (whose husband was a Nazi) that he was black listed by the Nazi’s; prompted the family to move to a small apartment in a Jewish neighbourhood, in the central city. Maja went to a Jewish girl’s high school and Konrad stayed on at the regular city high school. He knew however, that his teachers were members of the National Socialist Party or themselves Nazis. However, he still managed to maintain his religious instruction from the local Rabbi who came to the school once a week. Konrad and Maja attended Temple Shalom Synagogue and were members of the Zionist youth group organised by their Rabbi.
Konrad had his Bar Mitzvah at the Synagogue, in 1935, aged 14yrs. To his surprise, a loyal school friend from his life in the suburbs (who was not Jewish), made the trip by train to the city especially to give a speech in honour of Konrad.
In August 1938, just before war broke out, the Blumenfeld’s received word that a friend in NZ could sponsor them and they could flee Germany. Konrad was 17yrs old. They went by train to Italy, then by boat from Genoa to Australia via the Suez Canal, India, Perth and finally Sydney where they took the Niagara ship and were met by Rabbi Astor at the port of Auckland. Konrad remembers the feeling of freedom he had in NZ. Even though he spoke little English and the family struggled financially for the first few years, he was no longer afraid and began to think of his future.
Supported by the local Jewish community the Blumenfeld family were given temporary accommodation, and household effects, eventually settling in Mt Eden. Kurt established his own business once again; this time manufacturing novelty wooden items such as picnic tables and needle work boxes. Konrad found work as a builder’s labourer and Maja who had already trained a photographer, worked for the Auckland Star. Kurt Blumenfeld died in 1945, aged 59yrs. Konrad married Gertrud Stern in 1946 and by 1955, had three daughters: Judith, Nina and Irene.
Konrad took up many prominent roles within the Auckland and national Jewish community as: Secretary and then Chairman of the Jewish National Fund, Treasurer of the Jewish Council and was a lifelong member of the Jewish Zionist Society.
This podcast has been sourced from an interview recorded in 1996, by the Jewish Oral History Group.
Header Image (above): Konrad Blumenfeld. Image/permisson to reproduce by the Blumenfeld family © JoM