Charles Kurt felt very comfortable growing up in his native Vienna. “I knew every street and every sight to be known and I kind of took pride in the fact that I knew my city,” he said. The only child of Paul and Wilma Goldschmidt, who divorced when he was six, Charles enjoyed spending vacations traveling with his father to whom he was very close.
As soon as the Nazis entered Austria in March 1938 they began to terrorize and humiliate the Jews. They forced Wilma to scrub the streets on hands and knees. Later, she was arrested and held briefly on trumped-up charges. At school, teachers and students openly ridiculed Charles and he and his mother had to give up their apartment. Worse was to come. On the night of November 9, 1938, brown-shirted storm troopers incited and carried out violent attacks against the Jews of Germany and Austria, burning synagogues, destroying homes and looting Jewish businesses. Thousands of Jewish men were arrested, among them Charles’s stepfather Ernst Kurt. Thousands more looked frantically for any way to leave the country. “My mother and I stood in line for hours, for days, for weeks, in an attempt to get a visa anywhere. We tried and we tried and of course the amazing thing to me was that so many doors were closed and wouldn’t open up.”
Desperate, Wilma arranged for Charles to travel to Belgium with a children’s transport. Ernst had already been released from Dachau and had gone to America. She hoped that she and Charles could eventually join him. In Belgium, Charles learned French and went to school. He and his father, Paul, wrote to each other every day. In one letter, Paul told Charles that he had been taken to a labor camp in Poland. Charles never heard from his father again. He never learned what happened to him.
In the spring of 1940, just weeks before Germany invaded Belgium, Charles was finally able to sail to America to join Ernst and Wilma, who had arrived the year before and settled in Houston. After graduating from San Jacinto High School, he was eager to prove his allegiance to his adopted country. Volunteering with the U.S. Armed Forces and receiving his citizenship papers brought him “a tremendous amount of pride.” When he returned from serving in the Pacific, Charles established a career in sales. He retired in 1993 after thirty years with Hamilton Beach. Charles and his wife Sarah have two sons, Walter and Paul, and three grandchildren.
Paul Goldschmidt, d. in Holocaust
Wilma Unger Goldschmidt Kurt, survived
Ernst Kurt, survived