"Dr. Erich Klibansky […] saved my life", relates Shmuel Hazor in his testimony when mentioning the name of the much-loved headmaster of the "Yavne" (Jawne) Jewish gymnasium in Köln, Germany.
Dr. Menachem Erich Klibansky was the headmaster of the "Yavne" gymnasium from 1929 until its closure in 1942. Klibansky saved dozens of his students, arranging for their passage to England as part of the Kindertransport. Klibansky himself, his wife and their three sons were deported to the East and murdered.
Erich Klibansky was born in 1900 in Frankfurt and studied history, German literature and Romanian languages at the Frankfurt, Marburg and Munich universities. He married Meta David, a teacher at the Jewish girls' school in Frankfurt. The couple lived in Breslau, where Klibansky taught at the Jewish high school. In 1929, they moved to Köln with their one-year-old son Hans-Rafael. About two years later, their son Alexander was born, followed by their son Michael in 1935.
Klbansky became headmaster of the "Yavne" Jewish gymnasium in Köln and also taught there. This high school opened in 1919, the first Jewish high school to open in the Rhineland. Girls and boys studied together, both Jewish and secular subjects. Meta Klibansky taught English at the same school.
In 1937, there were 423 boys and girls at the school. That year, Klibansky started to develop study programs for pupils in the higher classes in which he taught Hebrew and English in order to help them adjust should they have to leave Germany. The pupils were primed to take the "Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency", an international educational qualification.
Klibansky made contact with Jewish communities in London, Liverpool, Manchester and Brighton, in an attempt to move the entire school to England – pupils, teachers and equipment. His prior efforts to move the school to Eretz Israel (Mandatory Palestine) were unsuccessful.
During the Kristallnacht pogrom, the school in Köln was damaged. Starting in January 1939, Klibansky managed to get four groups, comprising dozens of his pupils and several teachers out of Germany, to safety in England.
Shmuel Hazor (Königshöfer), a "Yavne" student, relates in his testimony that following the events of Kristallnacht, "the penny dropped" for his mother. Else Königshöfer realized that it was imperative to leave Germany, and entrusted her son to Klibansky's care. Shmuel and several dozen other boys and girls reached the Jewish community of Cricklewood in northwest London in January 1939. The community took care of all their needs, and one of the teachers who accompanied them became the group's headmaster. Shmuel managed to bring his younger brother Yosef to England, but his mother remained in Köln, and was later murdered in Auschwitz.
In 28 November 1938, Ludwig Penas, father of "Yavne" pupil Fritz Penas (later Fredrick Marchand) appealed to Klibansky to add his only son to the group of children leaving for England. "Right now, I don't have the money to pay for everything," wrote Ludwig, "but as soon as I find a new job abroad, I will underwrite all my son's expenses. In the meantime, I hope you will accommodate me regarding the expenses and the payment dates." In January 1939, 13-year-old Fritz left for England with the other pupils. His parents, Ludwig and Rosalie Penas remained in Köln. On 7 December 1941, they were both deported to the Riga ghetto in Latvia. To the best of our knowledge, Ludwig was murdered in the ghetto in March 1942, and Rosalie was sent to the Stutthof camp and murdered in 1944.
The "Yavne" gymnasium in Köln closed its doors on 1 July 1942. Klibansky tried to emigrate with his family to the US, but tragically, it was too late. On 20 July 1942, Erich Klibansky, his wife and sons were deported to the Minsk region and murdered in killing pits. More than 130 of his pupils survived in England.
In 1990, a square in Dr. Erich Klibansky's name was established in Köln on the site of the former "Yavne" school yard. In the square is a monument to the approximately 1,100 Jewish children deported from Köln to their deaths in the Holocaust.
In 1977, Charlotte David submitted Pages of Testimony to Yad Vashem in memory of her sister-in-law Meta, her brother-in-law Erich and her nephews, Hans, Alexander and Michael Klibansky. In 1990, Fredrick Marchand (Fritz Penas) visited Yad Vashem and submitted Pages of Testimony in memory of his parents, Ludwig and Rosalie Penas. In 2020, Fredrick's son Chris Marchand submitted photographs and documents to Yad Vashem, some of which are displayed here.