Obituary: Ernst Fraenkel escaped Nazis to become business pioneer and library champion

PUBLISHED: 10:00 29 November 2014

Ernst Fraenkel

Ernst Fraenkel


Ernst Fraenkel OBE, who died on November 13 at the age of 91, was the co-president of the Wiener Library for the Study of the Holocaust and Genocide, having been its chairman from 1993 until 2003.

He also held an honorary doctorate from Haifa University, awarded in recognition of his services to Holocaust education.

He was born in Breslau, Germany and grew up there and in Berlin. He came to Britain aged 16 on one of the last Kindertransports in 1939, being separated from his parents and four siblings.

He went to live in Bury, Lancashire, lodging with local families. After leaving school, he moved to Eton Garages, Belsize Park, during the war, working as an agricultural labourer.

He returned to Germany with the American army and was able to find his mother who had stayed there throughout the war, but who died shortly afterwards.

He obtained a degree at the London School of Economics, studying at night school with former Labour Party chairman Harold Laski and Ralph Miliband, father of Labour leader Ed. Eventually, he started working at global commodity trading firm Philipp Brothers. He spent 35 years there, rising to become the head of its European operations and a member of its executive committee.

He was a pioneer in international trade with the Communist bloc. He first travelled to the Soviet Union in 1964, and built up close relationships with generations of top Russian and Eastern European trade officials, often attending meetings at the then Soviet Trade delegation in Highgate Hill.

Under his guidance, Philipp Brothers, along with the Chase Manhattan Bank, was one of a very select group of American companies which was first allowed to open an office in Moscow.

He lived in Canfield Gardens, West Hampstead, throughout the 1960s, before settling in St John’s Wood until his death.

In the mid-1970s he was one of the first Western businessmen to visit China after the Cultural Revolution – taking the train from Hong Kong to the border, and walking across the bridge to the Chinese side, which was the only way in at the time. He became a regular visitor.

As he approached retirement, he was introduced to the Wiener Library through a case of mistaken identity – Ernst Fraenkel being erroneously confused with William Frankel, the then editor of the Jewish Chronicle.

The library was threatened with closure at the time as a result of financial difficulties. This was averted largely by his efforts.

In 1990 he established the Fraenkel Prize in Contemporary History which is awarded annually for an outstanding work of 20th-century history in one of the Wiener Library’s fields of interest. This has become one of the most prestigious prizes in the field.

He was firmly committed to building the library’s relationship with Germany and enjoyed good relationships with several German and Austrian ambassadors.

He was a longstanding supporter of the University of Haifa, inspired by its commitment to the education of Jewish and Palestinian Israelis alongside each other and a supporter of the Labour Friends of Israel.

In later life, he was often called upon by schools, synagogues and film makers to give his firsthand recollections of the Kristallnacht Nazi pogrom in 1938 and of growing up in Nazi Germany. He did this movingly but sparingly, unwilling to become a regular on the growing Holocaust education circuit.

He is survived by his wife of 67 years, Thilde, whom he first met at Herrlingen School in Germany in the 1930s, two children and five grandchildren.

Latest Hampstead & Highgate News Stories

41 minutes ago

A person has died after a fire broke out in a first floor flat on Brassey Road in West Hampstead.

34 minutes ago

Highgate’s historic Prince of Wales pub has temporarily closed for a £250,000 refurbishment but its new manager has moved to allay fears that the traditional boozer will lose its character.

Friday, November 16, 2018

I live in the north west of London in the United Kingdom. Like the rest of the country, I have been looking on in bewilderment at the Brexit deal while politicians on both sides of the house vie for political supremacy. Divisions in government make for good news headlines but do nothing for the public’s confidence in its institutions.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Normally we celebrate one business of the week – but today we’ve got three!

Friday, November 16, 2018

A Routemaster bus will take 72 passengers on a journey through Greek Cypriot history, via Camden and Holloway, on Sunday.

Friday, November 16, 2018

The latest twist in the saga of a Hampstead landlord who refuses to pay a controversial levy saw him bring a top barrister to his court hearing.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Opponents of the 100 Avenue Road development suffered a major blow last night as Camden voted through a controversial plan that will funnel seven lorries a day through residential streets in Swiss Cottage.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

The families left homeless by the fire that destroyed the upper floors of Willow House in East Finchley last week said Barnet Council treated them “like ants to be squashed” in the immediate aftermath of the fire.


Looking to get your child interested in a sport? Allianz Park, home to rugby union team Saracens, welcomes people of all ages to join their family of supporters and discover how their core values Honesty, Discipline, Humility and Work Rate underpin everything they do off and on the pitch.

As part of a major refurb, the London Marriott Hotel Maida Vale has renamed its three new-look function rooms to reflect the geography and rich history of the area. The largest, perfect for weddings and large meetings, is named after a Hampstead subterranean river, The Westbourne.

Londoners seeking high quality houses for sale within easy commuting distance of the capital are being advised to look north to St Albans’ prestigious Gabriel Square development.

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Most read Hampstead & Highgate news

Show Job Lists

Digital Edition


Enjoy the
Hampstead & Highgate Express
e-edition today


Education and Training


Read the
Education and Training
e-edition today

Read Now