Ernest Simon obituary
My friend Ernest Simon, who has died aged 92, was an Austrian Jew who avoided the Holocaust by coming to the UK as a child on the Kindertransport in 1939. He went on to work for ICI right across mainland Europe.
Born in Eisenstadt, Austria, to Karoline and Ludwig, a shoe factory worker, he spent his early years in Vienna, where from his bedroom window, in 1938, as an eight-year-old, he watched prayer books and Torah scrolls being burned at the synagogue on his street as Nazi paramilitaries attacked Jewish people and their property in what became known as Kristallnacht.
Ernest’s parents were able to secure him a place on the Kindertransport – the organised rescue effort of children from German-controlled territory in the nine months before the outbreak of the second world war. Separated from his parents and brother, Kurt, he did not know if he would ever see them again, but they arrived in the UK a month later.
Initially he and his family lived apart – Ernest and his brother were sent to different foster homes (Ernest in Leeds), while his mother worked in domestic service and his father was interned for 12 months on the Isle of Man. It was only upon his release in 1942 that they were able to live together again.
Once he left Cowper Street school, Ernest went to Leeds University, where he gained a degree in economics and commerce with German, French and Spanish. He then did two years’ national service in the RAF, who posted him to the Cambridge University department of Slavonic studies to do Russian interpreter training.
On demobilisation he ended up at Evans of Leeds, a civil engineering company, where he was a language tutor to the managing director’s son. In 1955 he joined Marks & Spencer as a management trainee, first at their Harrogate store and then in Leeds.
In 1957 he moved to ICI Fibres, where he sold the company’s polyester filament yarns and staple fibres to textile businesses across Scandinavia, later working with ICI in Switzerland, Germany, Paris, Brussels and Budapest before retiring in 1990. He returned to the UK in 2001 to live in London.
In recent years Ernest shared his experiences of German-occupied Austria and the Kindertransport with schools and community groups across the UK, and in 2019 was awarded a British Empire Medal in 2019. I first met Ernest in 2017, at the inaugural schools’ conference for Holocaust Memorial Day at the University of Exeter; I had arranged for him to travel down from his home in London to speak to more than 100 students from schools in Exeter. They were really inspired by what they heard.
Ernest met Anita Weinstein at a dance at the Leeds Jewish Institute in 1952 and they married two years later. She survives him; their son, Martin, died in 2016.