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Kurt Glauber: an Ipswich hero

By the beginning of the war there were about 20 Jewish refugees living in Ipswich, at least six of whom were from Vienna, including a 37 year old lawyer called Kurt Glauber.  The armed forces of Nazi Germany had marched triumphantly into Austria in March 1938, hailed as heroes by many people and unopposed by the Austrian military. Very soon after this, many Viennese Jews had their property confiscated and over 700 Jewish lawyers, including (presumably) Kurt Glauber, were banned from practising in the city.  The Glauber family was torn apart.  His father, the owner of a successful freight forwarding company, was dead, his brother had escaped to Palestine, and his mother and sister fled to London.  Kurt, a graduate of Vienna University and by now a lawyer practising in a smart part of Vienna, ended up in Ipswich.  

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Kurt Glauber from Geni website

When he arrived in Ipswich, the resident Jewish community was tiny and it is unclear whether any of the refugees then sheltering in the town knew or associated with each other.  Nor do we know who sponsored Kurt to come to Ipswich, or who found him somewhere to live or work.  We do know that he lived with the Barber family at 277 Norwich Road, maybe simply as a lodger helping the recently widowed Mrs Barber to boost her family’s income. But it is possible that she was more actively committed to helping refugees.  The house is now a vaping shop called ‘What’s Ya Flava’! 

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277 Norwich Road in 2022

At this time, Kurt was employed as a ‘trainee’ at the Tower Mill Steam Laundry in Bramford Road (picture below, now long gone)  –  a far cry from his former profession.  

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Tower Mill Steam Laundry, Bramford Road, Ipswich (first half C20th) from Robert Malster’s collection of photos

In the spring of 1940, the British authorities decided that refugees, even Jews escaping Nazi persecution, were a potential threat to domestic security.  Many were arrested and interned for some months on the Isle of Man. It is not known yet whether Kurt was included in this round-up, but there is no reason to suppose that he was not.  We do know, though, that he joined the Pioneer Corps in 1941.  This was a non-fighting army unit, open to refugees, in which men did essential but unskilled work, such as guarding bases, laying track, and so on.  And then, in 1943, the government decided to allow refugees to join fighting units.  Glauber promptly did so.  The official record shows that he joined the Royal Artillery.  As it turned out, however, this proved to be a cover story, for, in reality, Dr Glauber was recruited by MI6 to work as a secret agent.

Kurt was somehow smuggled back into Vienna by the British on a deadly secret mission. He was kept hidden by sisters Daniza and Rada Illitsch in their apartment. Daniza was a famous operatic soprano, a great favourite with Viennese audiences for many years.  Although she was not Jewish, she was later acknowledged to have been an active anti-Nazi, as were several of her fellow musicians at the Vienna Opera House.

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Daniza Illitsch

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Tragically, Glauber was picked up in early 1945 by the Gestapo, betrayed by a woman who had been letting British agents use her lodgings as a safe meeting house.  The Illitsch sisters were also immediately arrested and taken to a concentration camp.  They were eventually freed when the camp was liberated a few months later by the Russian army at the end of April 1945.

As for Kurt Glauber, he was held in Vienna and put under pressure to use his secret radio to send false intelligence back to MI6.  He refused to cooperate, so was taken to Mauthausen concentration camp in the spring of 1945.  He was particularly harshly treated for being both a British agent and a Jew.  A camp medic promised to help him get admitted to the infirmary, but we don’t know if this happened.  What is clear, though, is that Kurt died sometime in April 1945.  Had he been admitted to the infirmary, he would probably not have survived as the SS murdered nearly 3,000 prisoners from the hospital in a single day, on 20 April 1945.  A few weeks later, at the beginning of May, the camp was liberated by American troops. 

After the war, Kurt Glauber was posthumously awarded the King’s Commendation for Brave Conduct.  He is commemorated at Brookwood Cemetery (Commonwealth War Graves Commission) in Surrey in a section reserved for servicemen such as ‘special agents who died as prisoners or while working with Allied underground movements’.  And there is now a headstone commemorating him in the Jewish section of Ipswich Old Cemetery.