Fred Flatow was born Siegfried Friedel Ernst Flatow on May 16, 1928, in Königsberg, East Prussia (present day: Kaliningrad, Russia). Manfred, Fred’s older brother, was born in 1925. His parents, Erich and Malwine, opened a rainwear factory in 1924 and also operated a small fur coat business started by Fred’s grandparents.
Fred began first grade at an all-boys German public school in 1934, one year after Adolf Hitler came to power. Students were required to give the Hitler salute at the start of the school day. As the only Jewish boy in his class, Fred did not participate. He was bullied by his classmates, many of whom had already joined Nazi youth organizations. By the time Fred was to begin second grade, his parents had transferred him to the Jewish school, located in the city’s new synagogue, while Manfred remained in the public Gymnasium in preparation for university.
The National Socialist German Workers (Nazi) Party established itself in Königsberg as early as 1929. While the city had a small Jewish community of about 3,200 in 1928, by 1939, only 1,586 Jewish residents remained. Parades and festivals containing popular songs glorifying the Nazi Party and threatening the destruction of Jews further alienated the Jewish population. In August 1938, the Flatow family business was “aryanized” under the Nazi regime’s antisemitic laws. At that time, the law only required the Flatows to change company’s name in order to allow them to continue selling products to the German army.
On November 9, 1938, during Kristallnacht or “Night of Broken Glass,” the Gestapo arrested and jailed 450 Jewish men in Königsberg, including Erich. During the state sponsored mass violence, Nazi Party member and paramilitaries from the SA and Hitler Youth burned the new synagogue to the ground, and vandalized and looted Jewish-owned shops throughout Königsberg. Erich was released from jail a few days later by German authorities, however, the family was required to obtain identity cards from the police station imprinted with a large “J” to identify them as Jews. Realizing Königsberg was too dangerous for the children, Erich and Malwine sent Manfred and Fred to stay with friends in Hamburg, Germany, where Fred again enrolled in a Jewish boys’ school.
Fred’s parents were betrayed by their chief factory clerk in the summer of 1939. The factory clerk, knowing it was illegal for Jews to own firearms under Nazi laws, planted a gun in the business safe and turned Erich into the Gestapo. Erich and Malwine were forced to surrender their factory and Erich was told to report to the Gestapo headquarters in two days for a hearing. At this hearing, he was given two months to organize his emigration from Germany or be sent to a concentration camp. With help from the Königsberg’s Jewish community, Erich arranged for the family’s immigration to Chile.
The Flatlow family left Europe in October 1939 and arrived in Chile six months later. Fred married his wife Ursel, a fellow survivor, in 1948, and together they immigrated to the United States the next year. Fred found work in New York as an engineer and would eventually work for NASA for 22 years. Ursel worked as a book binder and then stayed home to care for their three children. Fred and Ursel now live in the Washington, DC area. Fred is a volunteer at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.