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September 6: From Treblinka to Toys

September 5, 2016

99590326_1411059790Fred Kort, a Holocaust survivor who founded the Imperial Toy Corporation, manufacturer of the high-bounce ball among hundreds of other playthings, died at 80 on this date in 2003. Kort and his family were among 22,000 Polish Jews expelled from Germany by the Nazis. Slated for death at Treblinka in August 1943, he managed to bluff his way into Treblinka’s labor camp and endured there for a year until the Red Army arrived. In the camp’s final days, as the Nazis were liquidating it and massacring the remaining hundreds of prisoners, Kort hid in a tool shed, then escaped into the woods and eventually joined the Polish underground. He arrived penniless in the U.S. in 1947. In 1969 he opened Imperial Toy Corporation in Los Angeles, which at its height had 5,000 workers and produced 800 different toys and games, including various water toys and bubble blowers. His wife Barbara, a convert to Judaism from Hong Kong, handled public relations for the company. The privately held company was sold to a Berkshire Hathaway-owned company in 2006. It subsequently received only a “fair” (4 out of 10) rating for environmental and social responsibility from Good Guide. As philanthropists, Kort helped to found the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Fred and Barbara Kort School of Languages at Bar-Ilan University, and the Barbara Kort Women’s Imaging Center at UCLA-Santa Monica.

“The only map that exists of Treblinka is one that he drew from memory for a Nazi war crimes trial in Chicago that he testified in. And that map was used throughout the trial.”--Ron Solomon