Mann was ‘Kindertransport’ survivor

BY ROBERT A. COHN, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF EMERITUS

Curtis L. Mann, who escaped the Nazis in his native Germany in 1939 as a passenger on the Kindertransport, and who became a prominent attorney, political activist and philanthropist, died Saturday, July 25, 2009, at Brookings Park in Chesterfield of complications he suffered following cardiac arrest; he had been in frail health the past few months. He was 83 and a resident of Creve Coeur. Mr. Mann was also a former member of the St. Louis Jewish Light Board of Trustees and its Editorial Committee, and had contributed a popular periodic column on his own life experiences and commentaries on a variety of topics.

Even after he completed his service on the Jewish Light Board and Editorial Committee, Mr. Mann stayed in touch with the newspaper through frequent letters, one of which was received and answered just days before his passing. His periodic columns had a loyal following in the community, especially among his fellow German Jewish Holocaust and Kindertransport survivors.

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Curtis L. Mann was born March 3, 1926, in Frankfurt, Germany, the youngest of two sons of Otto and Martha Mann. His father died when the boys were small children. Mr. Mann and his brother, Harvey Mann, grew up in the shadow of the Holocaust. After his bar mitzvah, Mr. Mann witnessed the burning of the synagogue where the service had taken place.

Mr. Mann’s brother Harvey was able to leave Germany earlier, and Curtis Mann was fortunate to have received a place on the Kindertransport. The Kindertransport brought refugee children out of Nazi Germany to England. Mr. Mann often said that his “best bar mitzvah gift was a message, ‘Family Found,'” indicating that a sponsoring family in England would take him in after he arrived. He boarded the Kindertransport on April 19, 1939, one of 500 Jewish refugee children on the weekly transport. Before it ceased operations, the Kindertransport rescued 10,000 children, many of whom had to endure heart-wrenching separations from their parents and other relatives, who perished in the Holocaust.

In articles and interviews with local media, including first-person accounts in the St. Louis Jewish Light, Mr. Mann said that the children, ranging in age from 6 to 17 “were the lucky ones,” who escaped “almost certain death in the extermination camps of the Holocaust.”

After Mr. Mann made his way to England on his own at the age of 13, his widowed mother, the late Martha Slotkin, joined him there in 1941. The mother and son went by ship to the United States, where they joined Mr. Mann’s older brother, who had already made the journey and was living in Cape Girardeau, Mo. The three later moved to St. Louis. Mr. Mann served in General George S. Patton’s Third Army, as a private and translator, towards the end of World War II. He then attended Washington University and the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where he earned his law degree.

Mr. Mann started his law practice in the early 1950s. One of his early associates was the late Melvin L. Newmark, a past president of the St. Louis Jewish Light Board of Trustees. Michael N. Newmark, Melvin’s son, recalled Mr. Mann as “a person of great intellect and strong principles.” Mr. Mann specialized in bankruptcy law, and practiced in that specialty for more than 50 years.

At a Congregation Shaare Emeth singles event, Mr. Mann met the former Eunice B. Schneider. They were married Sept. 7, 1952, and settled in University City, where he became active in local politics and community affairs. The Manns reared three children in Olivette; later, Mr. Mann moved to Creve Coeur. His wife died in 1997 of complications from lymphoma.

Rabbi Jim Bennett of Congregation Shaare Emeth, who officiated at Mr. Mann’s funeral service Monday at Beth Hamedrosh Hagodol Cemetery, said “Curtis and Eunice, who had an almost 45-year partnership and marriage, were meant to be together. Eunice brought out the soft and gentle side of the otherwise tough ‘yekke’ Curtis. Together, they were a wonderful pair. They established a home, and created a family, as Rob, Rick and Susan came along. Family was always important to Curtis, as to Eunice.”

Rabbi Bennett also recalled one of his first meetings with Mr. Mann, when he was a young rabbi at Shaare Emeth in the late 1980s. “This bigger than life, somewhat intimidating man came into my office, speaking with his distinctive accent, announcing to me that we would work together to create and develop the Shaare Emeth Mazon Project–to find hunger work together through our congregation and through the Jewish community’s efforts. It was an imperative, not a request, and I knew then that Curtis Mann was a force to be reckoned with. I loved the intellectual challenge of our relationship, and I was grateful for the generosity of his commitment.”

Granddaughter Laurie (Oren) Fromberg, on behalf of all three of Mr. Mann’s grandchildren, warmly remembered Mr. Mann’s unconditional love and respect. “Grandpa had a secret and for a diabetic, a rather large stash of chocolate which he shared with us. He also gave us history lessons on all of the presidents and on classical music composers. We enjoyed the many family trips, and were proud when he told us of his escape from Nazi Germany. We hope to follow his example in our own daily lives.”

Rabbi Jeffrey B. Stiffman, Emeritus of Shaare Emeth, sent an e-mail messaage from Israel where he was visiting last week. Offering his condolences to Mr. Mann’s family, Rabbi Stiffman recalled that “while Curtis, in view of his Holocaust experiences, felt a disconnect with formal prayer, he remained steadfast in his commitment to Jewish causes, especially combating hunger and supporting Jewish education. I remember with great fondness how well Curtis and Eunice served as chairs of our Adult Education Committee. We will miss him as a friend and as a former neighbor.”

Myron Bernard, a local attorney and long-time friend of Mr. Mann’s said, “The passing of my dear friend Curtis Mann is truly the end of an era. He was a remarkable man, and we will all miss him very much.”

In addition to his service on the Jewish Light Board, Mr. Mann was active as a volunteer for many charitable organizations. He was a former board member of Congregation Shaare Emeth and former chair of its Adult Education Committee and founder of the Mann Hunger Fund and Mann Education Fund; a volunteer for the St. Louis Holocaust Museum and Learning Center, who spoke at last April’s Yom HaShoah program; the St. Louis Jewish Film Festival, where he introduced films related to the Shoah; B’nai B’rith, Mazon, the national Jewish global hunger relief organization; and the St. Louis Foodbank. He was also active with the Kindertransport Association, giving lectures to children’s groups about his experiences.

In addition to his granddaughter Laurie Fromberg, survivors include two sons, Robert Mann of Memphis, Tenn., and Richard Mann of Chicago; a daughter, Dr. Susan Mann of Brookline, Mass.; and two other grandchildren, David Mann and Laura Lowe. He was predeceased by his brother Harvey Mann (the late Bridget).

Memorial contributions may be made to the Mann Family Hunger Fund at Congregation Shaare Emeth.