What my family history taught me about humanity and business.

Updated: 2 days ago

The Russian invasion of Ukraine triggered me, like many others to reflect on our own histories. I lay awake last night thinking about my grandparents, and what it must have been like back then, during and after World War II. It led me to reflect on what I know about war, humanity, and business.


These are my paternal grandparents, Leah Katzenell and Hansel Tiefenbrun, also known as Jack.


He was born in Krakow, Poland. They moved to Hollabrunn in Austria where they had a farm and later a delicatessen.


When Hilter annexed Austria, the Tiefenbruns were identified by their neighbours as Jewish. Overnight, the Nazis seized their business and their bank account was frozen. The Nazis moved them to Vienna where they were housed in an apartment with other Jewish families.


They lived with constant fear and uncertainty. The Nazis rounded them up and let them free, more than once. One day, my great grandfather, Sigmund, was taken by the Nazis to Buchenwald concentration camp and never returned. They murdered there him on 23rd September 1939. They sent his wife a bill to pay for his ashes.


The fear and catastrophic disruption Ukrainians are experiencing right now reminds me, of the trauma of my grandfather's experiences. I’m not a historian, but it’s easy to see that Putin’s claim of the Nazification of Ukraine is a lie.


Back then, it was the support of regular people, not governments, that saved my grandfather. Jewish and non-Jewish women arranged the kinder transport to rescue children in danger.


A Jewish family in Glasgow, the Livingstones, took my grandfather in and treated him like a son. He was so grateful for their support. He never spoke a word of German again. They gave him work in their factory and he studied in the evenings. When he was fixing machines in the factory, he met my grandmother, Leah.


Later, my grandfather wanted to start his own business. This was in part to help him bring his mother to Scotland, who he hadn't seen for 10 years. The Livingstone family supported him again, with money and machines.


He founded Castle Precision Engineering in 1951, a business that continues to thrive today. It began in textile manufacturing and grew to make complex machine parts. One of their long-standing customers is Rolls Royce.


After my grandpa died in 1986, his wife, my grandma Leah took over the company, followed by my uncle Marcus, and now his son, Yan. In 1973, my dad Ivor started a HiFi manufacturing business, Linn Products, that continues to thrive today, run by my brother Gilad.


The point? Peace is fragile. Life is fragile. We must remain united in our humanity to avoid descending into a more catastrophic war. And to allow many great things to grow.


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