Kurt Reiner (later Kent Reiner, 1913-1985) was born on 22 September 1913 in Vienna, Austria to Arthur Reiner (b. 1877 in Czechoslovakia) and Irma Reiner (née Lowy, b.1886 in Lovosice, Czechoslovakia). Kurt grew up in Vienna and studied engineering and belonged to the youth movement of the Social Democratic Party. In 1936, he met Hennie Goldmark (b. 1919), the daughter of Gedale and Mirel Goldmark, and the two married on 24 July 1938. On 12 March 1938 Nazi Germany annexed Austria. Kurt was doubly endangered both as a socialist and as a Jew. Three or four days following the German invasion of Austria, Kurt went to the American consulate to obtain forms for Hennie, her brother, Moritz, Kurt’s parents, and himself. Everyone was officially registered on 31 March 31 1938.
Kurt was arrested the day after Kristallnacht and brought to a police station. He was beaten severely and then transferred to Dachau. During his incarceration, Hennie sent letters to random Americans, pleading for help. She even wrote to the American department store B. Altman & Co. because her mother’s maiden name was Altman. Minutes after mailing the letter, Hennie collapsed into tears. She was approached by a Greek American woman, who consoled her. The woman said that she would talk to her contacts and help Hennie once she arrived back in America.
Hennie also tried obtaining visas from many different countries throughout South America. For a small fee, she obtained a letter from the Uruguayan consulate promising that a visa would be sent (though in reality they were issuing no such visa). She brought this letter to Gestapo headquarters with the hope of convincing them that Kurt should be released from Dachau as he now had a valid means to leave Germany. Weeks later, Kurt was summoned to the commandant’s office and released from Dachau on 27 January 27 1939. The letter, which had no real validity, had served its practical value.
Four days after being released, Kurt and Hennie went to Fischamend, a combination labor camp and Zionist training camp under the auspices of Hashomer Hazair (and monitored by the Nazi SS) preparing youth to immigrate to Palestine. They didn’t end up going to Palestine because their uncle in Argentina had told them that their visas were being prepared (although it never happened). Meanwhile, Kurt and Hennie learned that for 10 British pounds, they could cross the border into Milan and temporarily live in Italy. They left Austria on 6 July 1939. This was the last time either of them would see their parents. They had permission to remain in Italy for two months, so they planned to escape to France. They were aided by a Jewish store owner, Ettore Bassi, who smuggled other Jews across the border. They left Italy on a small motor craft on 28 August 1939 and went to Marseille. After the German invasion of Poland a few days later, France declared war on Germany and rounded up enemy aliens. Despite being a Jewish refugee, Kurt was arrested because he had a German passport. He was initially sent to a refugee camp in Forcalquier in September 1939, and then transferred to the Les Milles internment camp.
Then to their surprise, the anonymous Greek American woman whom Hennie met while Kurt was in Dachau, fulfilled her promise. She had contacted Rabbi Dr. David de Sola Pool, the rabbi of New York’s Spanish and Portuguese synagogue. Rabbi Pool wrote to Hennie informing her that he found a sponsor for their immigration. Hennie received the letter on 18 December 1939, and one week later she received a second letter from a Mr. Simon Scheuer offering to send them an affidavit of support. Hennie was further aided by the American consul, Hiram Bingham, who sped up the approval of their visas. In March 1940 their visas were approved. Mr. Scheuer also paid for the Reiners’ passage after holding a fundraiser in the United States for that purpose. Two months after receiving their visas, Kurt and Hennie sailed from France on 19 May 1940 on the SS Champlain. When they arrived in the Manhattan Harbor, New York, the Associated Press took a photo of Hennie wearing a hat with French, British, and US flags. The caption read “COUNTING ON AMERICA.”
After their arrival, Simon Scheuer assisted them by providing some money to get settled and a temporary place to stay. After staying briefly in New York, the Reiners moved to Salem, Oregon where Kurt eventually found work as a draftsman for Willamette Iron and Steel (WISCO). After the United States entered the war following Pearl Harbor, Kurt’s Austrian identity caused him to be under suspicion despite his being Jewish. Following the enactment of the Alien Enemies Act, the FBI forced him to wear a badge which said “Enemy Alien.” Kurt protested and eventually was permitted to wear a badge that said “friendly alien,” later reduced to “alien.” He also made a contribution to the war effort by reporting that he had seen the Nazis building an underground hangar during the time he was at Fischamend. The American military used that knowledge to eventually bomb that plant.
After the war, Kurt and Hennie moved back to the east coast and became naturalized citizens in 1947. Kurt eventually developed his professional career as an aeronautical engineer and contributed to such projects as the Atlas Space Missile and the Lunar Excursion Module which eventually carried Neil Armstrong to the moon.
Though Kurt and Hennie successfully immigrated to the United States, they were unable to save their parents. Kurt saved money to send to their parents for their emigration, but by the time they were able to wire the money, the American Consulate had closed. Kurt’s parents and Hennie’s mother were murdered at Maly Trostinec. Hennie’s father Gedale was killed by blood poisoning in 1940 in Lemberg, Poland. Numerous cousins, aunts and uncles were also murdered at Auschwitz.