For his moral strength, compassion, and selflessness in shielding Anne Frank
and others from the Nazis…
Not so many decades ago, Nazis held sway over Germany and other occupied countries; the lives of millions of Jewish people were in peril, as were those of anyone caught sheltering them. But for just over two years, Victor Kugler hid the family of one of the most famous and enduring names from that time period—Anne Frank. Victor Kugler was born and raised in what was once known as Austria-Hungary and joined the Navy during the First World War, where he was wounded and discharged. He moved to Holland, and in 1924 began to work for Anne’s father Otto at a spice company called Opekta, in Amsterdam. By 1938, Kugler had become a Dutch citizen, allowing him to take over as director of Opekta two years later. In so doing, he kept the company out of the hands of the Nazis, who were confiscating businesses owned by Jews. As daily life became increasingly difficult for Jewish people, the Frank family received notice in July of 1942 that Anne’s sister Margot was to report to a work camp. Days later, Kugler and three other co-workers hid the Frank family, and eventually four others, in a secret annex behind a bookcase in the Opekta offices. A note was left in the Frank home, indicating that they had fled the country. Every day, Kugler provided food, supplies, and support to those hidden in the office annex, all while continuing to run the business “as usual,” as it had been before. Since the penalty for sheltering and hiding Jews could be death, Kugler and his colleagues lived in constant fear for their own lives. Anne observed in her diary that “Miep and Mr. Kugler bear the greatest burden for us … Miep in everything she does, and Mr. Kugler through his enormous responsibility for the eight of us, which is sometimes so overwhelming that he can hardly speak from pent-up tension and strain.” Kugler never even told his wife, as she was ill, but simply carried his burden silently and faithfully. Why undertake such a dangerous risk? In his words, “I couldn’t do otherwise. I had to help them: they were my friends … Our greatest fear was that the hiding place would be discovered. I had to put on a good ‘act’ in front of Otto Frank’s former business partners, customers, and the neighbors.”
After two years of hiding his friends, however, an unknown informant turned them in. Kugler was arrested and interrogated by the Gestapo. He was sent to various camps for hard labor over the next several months, but on a march to Germany in 1945, Kugler managed to escape and went into hiding. After the war ended, Kugler moved to Canada with his second wife (his first wife having passed away). There he lived until his death in 1981, receiving numerous awards for his efforts to save his friends from the grip of the Nazis. Victor Kugler did not hesitate to help his friends, even at the risk of his own life, and although only Otto Frank survived the camps, Kugler’s commitment, determination, and courage are an inspiration to all who know his story.
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“We are honored to have been entrusted with the stewardship of this inspirational award and, at the same time, to have had the privilege of paying tribute to Mr. Kugler. Motivated by compassion and a sense of moral right, this modest and courageous man confronted evil with goodness, brutality with decency, and bigotry with brotherhood. He is the embodiment of the principles upon which this award was established.”
Dr. Alfred Gottschalk, President of Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion, at the presentation of the first Roger E. Joseph Prize in 1978