Lately, I’ve been thinking about Victor Kugler, one of a handful of people who defied the Nazis by providing sanctuary to Anne Frank and seven others during the Second World War.
Everyone knows about Anne Frank’s famous Diary of a Young Girl, but few likely realize that Victor Kugler left Europe after the war to start a new life in a quiet Toronto suburb where he lived for 26 years.
Kugler was a friend and employee of Anne’s father, Otto Frank. I can only imagine how Kugler must have felt when, in December 1941, Otto asked him to take control of his company because Jews in the Netherlands were forbidden from owning businesses. A few months later, Kugler was one of four employees who agreed to hide Otto Frank and his wife Edith, their children Anne and Margot, as well as Fritz Pfeffer and the van Pels family: Hermann, Auguste and Peter.
Running the business, scrounging extra food and money for two years, keeping the secret (even from his own wife), and trying to remain positive, took an enormous toll on Kugler’s health. Disguising Kugler’s identity with the alias of Mr. Kraler, Anne wrote in her diary on May 26, 1944:
“Miep and Kraler carry the heaviest burden of the eight in hiding, Miep in all she does and Kraler through the enormous responsibility, which is sometimes so much for him that he can hardly talk from pent-up nerves and strain…”
According to The Anne Frank House, Kugler was arrested when the Nazis discovered the secret annex on August 4, 1944, and was eventually transferred to Amersfoort concentration camp. Seven months later, he escaped during a forced march and went into hiding.
When the war ended, Kugler returned ownership of the business to Otto Frank, the only one of the eight to survive the concentration camps. After the death of his first wife, Kugler married Lucie van Langen in October 1953 and emigrated to Canada in 1955.
Kugler lived a quiet life in Toronto, working for several years as an electrician and insurance agent and occasionally speaking to schoolchildren about Anne Frank. In the early 1970s, the Yad Vashem Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority honoured Kugler as “Righteous among the Nations.”
Victor Kugler is not forgotten in Toronto thanks to author Rick Kardonne who, in 2008, published the book Victor Kugler: The Man Who Hid Anne Frank (Gefen Publishing House). Kardonne combined his own research and interviews with material gathered by Eda Shapiro who died before she was able to complete a book about Kugler.
Victor Kugler died in 1981, at the age of 81, and is buried at Riverside / Sanctuary Park Cemetery in Etobicoke, Ontario. Kardonne’s book prompted a local organization, the Neighbourhood Interfaith Group, to raise funds for a memorial stone that commemorates Kugler’s heroism. The marker was placed on his grave in 2011.