The Kolber Family’s Freedom Flight

August 16, 2018
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George, left, and Charles Kolber with their wives Vita and Christa at the book launch for their new memoir “Thrown Upon the World.” The event was held at the Center for Holocaust, Human Rights & Genocide Education (Chhange) on the Brookdale Community College campus in Lincroft.

By Rick Geffken |

LINCROFT – Most of the flights to freedom that Eastern European Jews took during World War II went through France to England, or perhaps Switzerland to the United States. Not so for the Kolber family’s incredible journey. Josef Kolber and his wife Eve fled west from Austria in 1938 and eventually settled in Shanghai, China after taking separate and hazardous routes.

“Thrown Upon the World,” the new book about that improbable escape, written by Josef and Eve’s grandsons, George and Charles Kolber, was launched on Aug. 1 at the Center for Holocaust, Human Rights & Genocide Education (Chhange) on the Brookdale Community College campus.

Dale Daniels, executive director of Chhange, was delighted to welcome guests to the Education Center to meet with the Kolber brothers. “About 50 people pre-registered for this book launch, but we’ve had over 120 show up, a tribute to the Kolber family who have generously shared some of the proceeds tonight with Chhange.”

As related in “Thrown Upon the World,” Josef and Eve Kolber were well-to-do owners of a sewing factory and a women’s clothing retail store in Vienna. They evaded capture as the Nazis rounded up Jews after the March 1938 German “Anschluss,” the annexation of Austria. Packing sewing equipment and hidden valuables in crates, Josef and his sons Dolfie and Walter set out by ship in October 1938. They traveled through the Suez Canal to India and eventually made it to the “open city” of Shanghai, one of the few which had no visa requirements for Jews leaving Austria.

Two Sides To Every Great Story

Eve and daughter Lily left soon thereafter on what would become a 46-day, 7,600- mile overland rail route. The women were delayed several times as border officials puzzled over their passports stamped with a large red “J,” the German designation for Jew. The family was reunited in China in December, a month after the men got to Shanghai.

At the Chhange-sponsored book launch, Two River area residents George and wife Vita Kolber, and Charles and wife Christa Kolber greeted guests and signed the book which took them three years to write. Among the well- wishers were philanthropists Joan and Robert Rechnitz, Congressman Chris Smith, realtor Gloria Nilson, and many personal Kolber friends like Kay O’Keefe.

The nonprofit Chhange’s mission is “to educate about the Holocaust, human rights, and genocide.” As such, its permanent exhibit calls attention to the Nazi atrocities, the Armenian genocide in the early 20th century, and the Rwandan horrors of 1994. Sadly, Chhange staff acknowledge they will probably supplement their current displays with other atrocities in the future. Details about the organization and exhibit hours can be found at chhange.org.

George Kolber is an accounting client and friend of Howard Dorman, the president of Chhange. This connection and a shared family history to the Holocaust resulted in the book launch. Dorman’s grandparents did not survive Nazi extermination, although his parents did. Among other war-time memorabilia preserved and on display at the Chhange exhibit is the first blouse his mother, Ellen Wiener Dorman wore after her concentration camp release.

Josef and Eve Kolber’s son Walter fell in love and married a Shanghai native, Chao Chen in 1946. George and Charles are their sons. George Kolber grew up to become a prominent business leader, and a philanthropist in his own right. Charles has headed several companies to success. The circumstances of their parents’ meeting in Shanghai and the brothers’ own lives in the United States are all chronicled in “Thrown Upon the World,” published by Archway Publishing.

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Asked for comment about why this book now, George Kolber replied, “Charles and I firmly believe that it is an important story and that everyone should understand that while the Nazis were committing unimaginable atrocities against the Jews and others in Europe, the Japanese were doing the same to the Chinese.

“We believe that hate and bias anywhere in the world is unacceptable. The Center for Holocaust, Human Rights and Genocide Education (Chhange) provides extensive programs showing the horrors of hatred and promote the fact that all people are created equal.”

The Kolbers took their title from, appropriately, the German writer and statesman Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s who wrote: “Reared as we are, in quiet and peace, now all at once we’re thrown upon the world.”

Call it fate, serendipity, or kismet, the Kolber family odyssey and legacy is fascinating.

A short video of the 1938 Kolbers’ journey from Vienna to Shanghai is on YouTube: “The Kolber Family’s Escape to Shanghai.”


This article was first published in the August 9-16, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.

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