Kurt's Biography


The following is an exerpt from the book Emigrantengeschichten           (Immigrant Stories) written by Ulrike Eisensträger - 

click here for the original German version

The Pursuit of Happiness

            The house is located in Brentwood in West Los Angeles, a neighborhood whose residents are not amused about the sudden fame the area acquired in the wake of the O.J. Simpson murder trial. Some homeowners who lived near the crime scene have sold their homes and settled elsewhere. Brentwood is located to the north of Santa Monica and to the west of Bel Air. In this neighborhood, the architecture and landscaping style of the gardens signal retreat. Properties are often hidden behind high hedges, shrubs or walls. The narrow, curvy streets that wind uphill along Mandeville Canyon dead-end in the shrub lands of this undeveloped hill.

            One house presents visitors with a white facade, a closed double garage, and the smooth white surface of the entryway's double doors. The property owner loves the understated design of this architectural style. The owner designed the home himself. Inside the home, the primary color is also white. Upon entering the living room, a visitor will find himself surprised by glazed windows that span two stories and afford a magnificent view across flowering gardens, the city of Santa Monica and on to the Pacific Ocean. A few days each year, the view is so perfectly clear that Catalina Island is visible in the distance.

            The homeowner also enjoys this view from his desk, located a few steps up, overlooking the living room, including the window. The smaller, open office is lit by golden sunlight, reflecting off the natural rock formations that appear to roll off the hillside against which the house was built directly into the room through the back wall that was left open.

            The same magnificent view dominates the kitchen as well, which is located next to the living room. The kitchen contains a long, plain dining room table made from heavy wood. The view here is framed by a lower ceiling and thus creates a view that appear wider, not unlike Cinemascope format, a view that is repeated in the home's second story in the bedroom. The mirrored walls along the narrow side of the dining room table and along the small rise that leads to the office heighten the impression of airiness and transparency. What a joy to start the day here! And the homeowner starts his days early, very early. He loves the new beginning, as he does all beginnings.

            In order to be open to new things, he does not like to carry the past with him. That is why there are no reminders in his environment that testify to life lived in the past. There are no memories that have morphed into objects, such as pictures of friends and relatives, no souvenirs from his travels or other mementos, not to mention coffee table books and similar decorative elements. In fact, there are no books at all. Years ago, Kurt Simon already donated his library of 2,000 books to a university "in order to simplify my life". He kept only one shelf of books authored by his friends.

            Two days prior to his 87th birthday, he started out his memoirs with the remark that his interest in the future is his primary focus. He no longer wants to burden himself with his past life story, which he has not thought of in decades. The only connection that remains to his native country is his accent. He would like to lose his accent, even though, fortunately, it is not something that matters in his interactions with people in this country. Kurt Simon has lived in America since he was 23. By now, his knowledge of the German language is merely passive. He refers to his spoken German as “kitchen German”.

            As he looks back upon the different stages of his life, he remarks that they are so diverse that they do not point to a single goal. With this, he would like to reach out to those who are afraid of aging. At this point in time, his life is more comfortable than ever before. He is not concerned by the knowledge that he has reached the end of his life. In the past, he was often troubled by financial concerns and he has risen beyond such concerns. His net worth is four million dollars. He did not expect this level of wealth, as he was never much interested in money in everything that he has done in his life.

            Kurt Simon left Germany in 1935, because he was suddenly classified as Jewish. He is descended from a Jewish family, but was raised Protestant. His sister, on the other hand, was raised Catholic, as she attended a parochial school. His friends do not understand his decision since nothing about him changed from their point of view. Hitler’s proclamations, however, say that he is an enemy of the state and Kurt believed the situation would not improve. 

He spreads out the map of the world in front of him and searches for a destination. Chile looks like a very attractive country. Since he graduated from the Technical University in Stuttgart and acquired excellent knowledge about production and management working in his family’s business, he decides to accept a well-paid position as the manager of a mine in the Andes. But he never arrives there.

He leaves the ship in New York and immediately liked America so much that he never wants to leave again. He goes to look for work in this metropolis characterized by the Great Depression. People are fainting from hunger and executive employees are trying to sell apples in the street. Kurt has money from his parents with him. He immediately puts the funds in a bank account and never touches them. He goes door to door in the factory district, asking for work.

After a few days, he gets a job that is so dangerous that nobody else wanted it. Without any safety precautions, he works on a saw that cuts pipes made from hard plastics. His wages are barely sufficient to cover a room at the YMCA. He walks over an hour to go to a hairdresser because haircuts there are 10 cents cheaper than elsewhere. He isn’t bothered by his financial situation until later, when he realizes that he cannot afford to take a girl out to a restaurant or buy Christmas presents for his friends.

Soon he is ready to leave New York and settle elsewhere in the United States. He owns a Leica camera and has experience as a photographer. He writes countless letters, applying for a position as a photojournalist with newspapers all over the country, and, according to Kurt, “never realizing that letters to the editors never get answered.” By accident, he meets the most powerful man in the publishing industry, William Randolph Hearst. The most powerful man’s aunt is taken with Kurt and introduces him to her famous nephew as a gesture of gratitude for a service that Kurt provided for her. Shortly thereafter, he receives a letter at the YMCA, instructing him to appear for an interview with the publisher of the New York Daily Mirror, which, in those days was one of the largest papers in the United States.

The publisher interviews him personally and asks him if he ever worked for a newspaper or if he is a professional photographer. When Kurt answers "No" to both questions, the publisher sighs deeply. According to Kurt, "the man took his head in his hands and said, 'Oh my god, and I must hire you.' I said, 'I don't know what you're talking about.' He said, 'The old man.' I said, 'Which old man?' - 'William Randolph Hearst. He called me... from San Simeon at 3 o'clock in the morning and told me to hire you.'" Kurt Simon explains to the publisher that he is very familiar with his newspaper and that he is impressed with the photos published in the paper. He goes on to say that he has not seen any pictures in the paper that he could not have taken himself just as well, if given a chance. He proposes to the publisher to work for free for three weeks. The publisher replies "We always pay people who work here." When Kurt replies that the publisher can always fire him if he doesn't produce what is expected of him, he replies: "That we most certainly will do."

At first, working as a photojournalist is fascinating. Kurt gets a chance to see up close how the concept of "melting pot" takes shape in a metropolis like New York - or, in many cases, how it does not. He takes pictures of accidents and sensational events of all kinds, such as, for example, the remains of a man who jumped to his death from the top of the Empire State Building. At many accident sites he waits, camera in hand, for the relatives of the victims, to take pictures of them as they fall down next to the bodies of the victims in pain and despair. His efforts are in vain, however, if the victim is merely a window washer who fell to his death by accident. Says Kurt Simon, "I learned what is news in this country and what isn't." The longer he works in this profession, the more he is disgusted by it. He is also not too fond of New York and New Yorkers.

At a party, Kurt meets Fritz Kaufmann, who is from Germany, and who asks him what exactly he hopes to achieve in America. Even though Kurt thinks that he hardly knows this man and that the answer to this question is hardly any of his business, he accepts the man's invitation to meet in his office. The man heads one of the largest employment agencies in the market. He represents the city and state of New York as its public employer.

Fritz Kaufmann's business card in hand, Kurt Simon wanders around the hallways until he finally discovers the grandiose executive office that takes up two stories. The office contains an enormous desk, completely empty, situated in front of the flags of the city and state of New York, as well as the flag of the United States, arranged in a row.

Once again, Fritz Kaufmann asks him: "You have arrived in the United States, 23 years old, what do you want to do with your life?" And I said, 'I want to eat.' He said, 'You're all wrong.' - 'You don't want me to eat?' And he said, "A look at you convinces me that you will always eat. (...) But damned - don't you have a dream?'" And so Kurt tells him of his dream to produce movies. Fritz Kaufmann said, 'Have you tried?'" At this point of time in New York, without a penny of capital and no experience in movie production, Kurt thinks this question completely insane. When he answers "No", Fritz Kaufmann dismisses him with the remark that he should go make his dream a reality.

Kurt leaves New York with what little money he earned there, about 400 dollars. He buys a car and sets out to travel across the United State to find a place where he would like to live. Naturally, Hollywood and its film industry is the goal to realize his dream from the outset. But he has not yet decided where he wants to settle. For two months, he scouts possible locations. Chicago appears so unattractive to him that he thinks it's a good place to settle where one can concentrate on making money without distractions. Denver, surrounded by high mountain ranges, looks very interesting, as does San Francisco and its charm. As soon as he reaches Santa Monica in Los Angeles, however, and explores the area where he still goes jogging every morning to this day, he says to himself: "This is the place."

Fortunately, he has a cousin who is a fairly successful actress. She introduces him to the head of Metro Goldwyn Mayer studios. As a photographer his preference is, of course, to become a cameraman. Carl Freund, a photographer who became famous for his pictures of Great Garbo, advises against it and suggests to him to become a film editor instead, as this is a profession that lets him learn about all the steps involved in creating a movie.

And so Kurt Simon begins an apprenticeship as a film editor at Metro Goldwyn Mayer. He works under Margaret Booth, according to Kurt "the most famous film editor of all times", and it is not an easy path. Says Kurt, "She asked me - always - questions I couldn't answer.  'What is this close up shot?' 'What happened to this?' And when I said, 'I don't know, Margaret', she pounded her fist on the desk and said, "Don't say, I don't know! Say, I'll find out, Margaret!'"

Kurt learns and discovers quite a bit this way. To this day, he avoids the answer: “I don’t know” if he doesn’t know something. And so he takes a huge step forward within the film industry – until he is let go, along with 1,400 other employees on the same day. The jobs are being eliminated.

Very tough times are about to begin in Hollywood, as other studios lay off employees by the thousands as well. Kurt still has the goal to work his way up from studio employee to movie director or producer. At the time, he didn’t know that this is almost impossible in Hollywood.

In the meantime, he takes a job with the post office at Christmas time. He sorts letters and delivers packages. He does this for three years at Christmastime. For years, he also works as a courier for Warner Brothers Studios. In addition, he takes on all types of office work and does everything he can, to earn money to live on.  The jobs are bleak and boring and Kurt is miserable the whole time.

At the end of the 1930s, Kurt finally manages to secure work with director William Dieterle, who has German roots. He always wore white gloves and viewed himself as god-like. He loved it when others flattered him. So Kurt writes him a letter in which he begs him to be allowed to walk in his shadow and carry his script for him - or something like that. Even though Kurt hates himself for penning a letter like that, he is successful and receives a reply from Mrs. Dieterle, who managed her husband's business and organized his life for him.

The employment interview takes place in Mrs. Dieterle's bedroom, as she is bedridden after a serious accident. Her primary interest is in Kurt's time of birth, as she is a devoted follower of astrology and makes decisions only in harmony with the stars. Kurt is asked to wait downstairs until Mrs. Dieterle has secured the advice of her astrologer. Chinese waiters serve Kurt tea and baked goods, he hears a car leave and return after several hours. Finally, he is called back upstairs to discover that his stars are aligned favorably. Mrs. Dieterle says: "Your sign is amazingly parallel to that of my husband."

And so begin the strangest one and a half years of Kurt Simon's life. He is given an office in the Dieterle's private residence, meets famous German emigrants, such as composer Arnold Schoenberg and writer Bertolt Brecht, who came and went as guests, and is a servant to William Dieterle, the most famous celebrity of them all. Kurt not only carries his script to the set, but also the notes that Mrs. Dieterle prepares for her husband. In the process, Mr. Dieterle reveals himself to be quite an airhead, while Mrs. Dieterle turns out to be very clever, using astrology to implement her brilliant ideas.

One day, Mrs. Dieterle sends Mr. Simon, as she insists on calling him in spite of his youth, to a pet shop to find out when exactly the two dogs were born that she is looking at, as she is considering giving one of them to her husband for his birthday. For this decision, too, the astrologer is consulted for an opinion. Of course, the pet shop owner knows nothing about the dogs' time of birth. However, since the animals are very expensive, precise information about the dogs' time of birth is obtained soon enough. The astrologer renders an opinion, describing the dogs' personality differences in great detail, and the Dieterles find it difficult to make a decision. After hours of long-winded deliberations, they finally decide to purchase both dogs. After only eight weeks, both dogs have died.

Finally, Kurt becomes fed up with this kind of rigamarole and he causes Mrs. Dieterle to fire him after insulting her. He receives unemployment benefits for a short time, until he starts working again as a studio messenger for years. He runs back and forth all day, delivering mail and messages to people. He is starting to feel like there are no longer any opportunities for him.

Still, after a long time, he finally lands a better job, as one of five time checkers, hired to run around Warner Brothers Studios and understand exactly who does what at what time. Each time checker is tasked with checking the work of 200 employees each day. Mr. Warner wanted to know what his employees are doing over the course of a day. In conjunction with the accounting department, he was then able to obtain a cost estimate about a film's production costs that was accurate to a margin of 5%.

This kind of work is extremely interesting to Kurt Simon, as he is learning in detail about every single phase involved in making a movie. He is constantly re-assigned to different groups of people whose work he checks. One time, it's the personal assistants, another time the actors, next time it's the directors, and then the costume designers. Kurt also benefited from a union regulation that stipulated he had to work eight hours a day, even though he sometimes finished his allotted work in two hours. So instead of a half-hour lunch break, he can take two hours, time that he spends in the well-equipped studio library. His boss knows that he can always be reached there.

In the library, Kurt comes across an article by Peter F. Drucker, a well-known management consultant. This article contains the following statement: "In order to be a good employee, you have to undergo two experiences. You have to at least once in your life be fired, so you know your life doesn't collapse if you lose your job. And at least once in your life you have to quit a job if you have no future in it. - I closed that 'Fortune Magazine' with that article, ... I walked around the backyard of Warner Brothers for two hours - and I quit."

So now Kurt is in his mid-30s, once again out of work and has very little money. However, only two weeks later, he has found another job, and is earning a lot more money than before. The work in a small special effects studio is extremely interesting and allows him to apply everything that he has learned previously. Even though he rarely works fewer than 14 hours a day, he is inspired by the endeavor to create visual effects in a movie that were previously considered impossible. He performs his job so well that the studio partners transfer partial ownership of the company to him, even though he cannot make a financial investment. That is how Kurt becomes a partner in the company.

But something goes wrong. Kurt's tremendous dedication to his job is not the only thing going on his life at the time. Says Kurt, "I was a bachelor, I had female troubles at that time. I had an active social life." In addition, he lives far outside of Los Angeles in Malibu and has a long commute to the studio. Moreover, he gets interested in politics and gets involved with election campaigns.

His fast and turbulent lifestyle lands him in the hospital. He suffers from acute, stabbing pain in the joints of his fingers and knees. This occurs during the years after World War II, and as a former soldier, he visits the Veteran's Hospital. According to Kurt, "I stood in a line with about ten other naked men when the doctor with his assistant came by, checked each one of us out and turned to his assistant and said, 'Take that man off his feet for three months', and walked off."

Kurt throws on his clothes and runs after the doctor. Kurt explains to the doctor that it is impossible for him to stay in the hospital for three months, that he has to work, that he has obligations. The doctor asked him how long he was in the Army. Ok, five years. He should have three month's time to get healthy.

He was diagnosed with a form of arthritis (rheumatoid arthritis). For three months, his feet don't touch the floor. He is either in bed or uses a wheelchair to get around the hospital. He enjoys sitting on the roof in the fresh air. During his lengthy hospital stay, he asks himself: "How could this have happened to me?" He obtains books from the library about his illness, whose cause is unknown. Kurt tries to recall the first time he felt the stabbing pain in his joints and realizes that it was during a time of extreme stress in his life.

Once he discovers that the cause of his illness is stress-related, he refuses all medications prescribed for him. He refuses taking 36 aspirin tablets per day, rejects the prescription for ACTH and also does not accept the new wonder drug cortisone. Refusing medications appears to contribute to his regaining his health. He resolves that, in the future, he will remove himself from all situations that create excessive stress.

The physician who diagnosed and hospitalized him for three months goes on to become President of the American Arthritis Foundation. Once Kurt tells him about his road back to good health, he invites Kurt to attend a lecture the doctor is giving for more than 100 rheumatologists. There, together with x-rays of his knees before he got sick and after he became well again, Kurt Simon is introduced as living proof for the argument that arthritis can be caused by stress and healed by avoiding stress.

After his discharge from the hospital, Kurt implements what he has learned from this insight. He leaves behind his work at the special effects studio for good and travels to Mexico, where he lives for three months on a dollar and a half per day. He does not return to Los Angeles until he feels that he is completely free of pain. He retains this method of managing his strength and energy as a guiding principle of his life. As soon as he notices the first signs of pain in his joints, he abandons whatever he is doing and travels for weeks or months at a time. He discovered his personal warning system and utilizes it to his advantage.

Kurt's dedication to politics isn't rooted in his support for a political party or personality. On the contrary, his goal is to thwart the victory of a politician whom he considers exceptionally stupid, partly because of her affiliation with the leftist political spectrum. That is why he finds himself working in Richard Nixon's election campaign headquarters in Westwood during the 1950's. For months, he licks stamps, mails and distributes election campaign flyers, goes door to door, shouts slogans through a megaphone, and never meets Mr. Nixon once the entire time. After Nixon's victory, Kurt receives a form letter thanking him for his contributions. The letter encourages him to contact Mr. Nixon in Washington, if he has any concerns or requests.

Kurt, of course, never contacts Mr. Nixon in Washington, but the letter encourages him to attend the Republican Party Club in Westwood on a regular basis. There are many people his own age there and for the longest time he listens to the discussions with amazement. When he finally finds the courage to contribute himself, he garners praise and applause. So he sticks with it. Later on, he himself founds a larger Republican organization that evolves into the largest Republican association in West Los Angeles.

During the early 1960's, Kurt supports the presidential candidacy of right-wing Republican Barry Goldwater against Nelson Rockefeller in Los Angeles and Southern California. He recruits 14,000 election workers, who go door to door without accepting compensation. At a large election campaign event in San Francisco, he smuggles actor Ronald Reagan into the venue and asks him to appear in his campaign movie for Barry Goldwater without pay. Kurt Simon counts this campaign among the highlights of his political activities, since he believes that it demonstrates how imagination and organization can be used to win partial victories over much wealthier opponents.

Kurt considers Barry Goldwater a huge idealist and the fact that he did not win the presidency does not in any way diminish this success in Kurt's eyes. He believes that Goldwater's defeat is due to the large amounts of money funneled into the campaign by Goldwater's opponents, such as left-wing organizations like, for example, unions.

Since that time, Kurt has no longer been politically active all that much. He recently canceled his membership of 30 years in the Republican Party National Committee. Today's Republican Party strikes him as an organization that provides a platform for religious fanatics, as evidenced by an initiative to outlaw abortion. In Kurt's opinion, this amounts to an encroachment on the freedom to make personal choices.

In a different context, Kurt does experience once more the rewarding feeling of having political influence. Future German Federal President Gustav Heinemann, who, at one time, served as attorney to Kurt Simon's father in Essen (Germany), invites Kurt to a meeting to discuss ideas in preparation for the upcoming presidential election in Germany. When Kurt is asked about his impression of the event, he recommends "Robert's Rules of Order", "an American booklet that was written a hundred years ago (about) how to conduct a meeting." These guidelines describe simple rules for decision-making committees on forming opinions and securing results. He sends a telegraph to America and immediately has the book sent to Gustav Heinemann, who tells Kurt later on that he was very helpful to him. "So, can you imagine that Kurt Simon was influential in getting a president elected in Germany?"

Contrary to the stereotype of the poor immigrant who goes on to become a millionaire in America, Kurt left a wealthy home to live in poverty. He grew up in Werden/Ruhr (Germany), a small town near the large city of Essen. The family owned the W. Döllken wood processing plant. The company was named after Kurt's grandfather and, at the time, was owned by his father. The business produced wooden slats and picture frames for export all around the world. At the time, the company was the largest employer in the small town of Werden. Says Kurt, "I was raised to be conscious of the fact that I had to be gracious to everyone." He tipped his cap when he met someone in the street, and others did the same for him, even when he was still a child. Sometimes he was driven to school in a horse-drawn carriage. His parents had clothing custom-made for him at a tailor shop in Essen, but Kurt refused to wear them. He wanted to look like other kids.

Says Kurt, "My parents were wonderful people, just - wonderful people." The Simons tried to use their wealth to alleviate the poverty of those around them. Mrs. Simon founded a medical consultation service for mothers. She paid a doctor and a nurse to hold weekly office hours for mothers with infants up to two years of age to obtain exams and counseling.

At Christmas time, the family gave gifts to kids, always a toy manufactured in the Simon's factory or home, along with food and clothing. Kurt remembers that the furniture in the house was always rearranged during the weeks prior to Christmas to make room for the multitude of gifts. The Simons employed several seamstresses to sew outfits for the children, with the stipulation that no two outfits could be alike.

Every Christmas, Kurt's mother conferred with community pastors to select twelve of the town's poorest families, who each received a huge basket of food on Christmas Eve. With the chauffeur instructed to park a distance away, it was Kurt's job to present the gifts, along with his governess. He still clearly remembers the amazement and surprise of those families, their astonishment that Mrs. Simon would even know about them. He always responded the same way and explained that Mrs. Simon had heard about them, that he hoped they would enjoy the gift and that it wouldn't be necessary for him to return the basket.

The Simon family focused on helping others. Kurt's father actively participated in many community associations and held numerous honorary appointments. He also presided over the commercial court. He earned Germany's Federal Cross of Merit for his activities. Kurt's mother was awarded the Red Cross Silver Medal for founding the medical consultation service for mothers. Today, there is a street in Essen named after her, the Else-Simon-Aue.

Once the national socialists rose to power in Germany, everything changed drastically. Kurt's father was arrested and tortured by the Gestapo (secret police). To his surprise, he was released after some time. The Simons were forced to sell their factory. His parents were given only a short time to pack their belongings and start the emigration process that finally leads them to their son in Los Angeles in 1940.

In 1937, they had already visited their son in America and returned home, because they did not want to leave Germany. Now, they settle in Santa Monica for the rest of their lives. Kurt's father dies in 1945, while Kurt is in Europe as a soldier in the U.S. Army during WWII.

After the war, Kurt Simon looks for the family who bought the factory that Kurt's family was forced to sell before the war. He finds that they are very honorable people. They return his parents' property to him without any further exchange of money and Kurt becomes the property owner.

For a while he stays on as the factory manager to solidify his claim to the property. Of course, he has been an American now for quite some time and has no intention of returning to Germany. At the factory, he refuses to work in his father's office, isolated by an anteroom with two secretaries. Instead, he works in the show room with the door open. One of the secretaries, who speaks English, and has taken the second desk in the show room, learns about how American secretaries work. "I said, 'Look, you don't take orders from anyone but me. And when your job is done at the end of the day, if I'm not in, you don't have to stick around. You go home. And if there is some time more work to be done, please give me a little more time overtime. And you come in, when I tell you or when you feel it's right.'" The secretary writes to him years later and tells him this job was the best one she has ever had.

During his first visit to his family in Germany since he left in the 1930’s Kurt is a soldier in the U.S. Army, in which he served from March 1941 to November 1945. Shortly after he received his U.S. citizenship, he enlisted voluntarily. These years of his life aren’t his happiest. Someone accuses him of being a Nazi spy. It isn't until years later - after the government changed laws governing data privacy and confidentiality - that Kurt discovers that this accusation was an act of revenge by an acquaintance, who believed that Kurt stole a girl from him. For three years, Kurt is suspected of disloyalty and has no access to confidential, secret or unpublished information. He is assigned to the film unit, where he meets numerous acquaintances from Hollywood. Everybody is aware of the accusations against him. Most do not give them much credence, since they know Kurt so well. Still, Kurt finds the accusations depressing, and he initiates legal proceedings against himself, resulting in a preliminary ruling that clears his name.

Kurt Simon is sent to Europe, together with 12 other soldiers that all have a film production background, including screen writers, film editors, cameramen and others working in the film industry. To this day, Kurt Simon has no idea why his film unit had to be transported to Europe so urgently, traveling "top priority", which means that other passengers had to give up their spots and wait. When the film unit arrives in London, nobody knows about them, and they are not needed anywhere. The 13 soldiers from the film unit stay together and wander around the city.

When they found out that the best food was available at Eisenhower's headquarters, they reported there for duty. They are treated well and are charged with viewing all films made at the time in the Allied power's sphere of influence. Films chronicling war events, and films made by accredited military film makers, along with films made by civilians are sent to three labs for development. From there, the material is sent to Eisenhower's headquarters in London, which is also the location of the highest-ranking Allied censorship agency. There, in cooperation with the representatives of the Allied powers, including Free France and Free Norway, the films were secured and censored. For example, scenes showing detailed images of war machinery were cut, such as radar equipment inside planes, or scenes depicting defeats or weaknesses of the Allies. It was Kurt's job to burn the cut scenes. Sometimes he felt as if he was destroying material that had historic value. Sometimes he doubted that censorship made sense, when, for example, he was supposed to destroy a scene depicting two black soldiers carrying away a white soldier on a stretcher. He felt as if this was an early version of political correctness, intended to prevent the impression that black soldiers were preferentially used as stretcher carriers.

With the liberation of Paris, the film unit moves from London to France. Kurt remembers the rousing welcome from the French people, who hug and kiss the Americans.

Every day, they had to report to Eisenhower's general staff about which films were made at which European location. For this purpose, the film unit takes over the Theatre Vagram, a large and magnificent movie theater. Incoming material is edited and collated into films that are often narrated live by the films' creators over a microphone, due to lack of time to create audio tracks. The largest audience ever to view these films consisted of 20 generals.

Kurt enjoys life in Paris very much – he had requisitioned the Rothschild Palais in the Rue Octave Feuillet for the film unit and the top chef at the Ritz Hotel cooked for them. Still he is becoming restless and is looking for a challenge. Since he speaks three languages – English, French and German – he qualifies for the Counter Intelligence Corps and thus becomes a CIC agent.

The command staff of the secret service group consists of just a handful of people and is headquartered in the “Chatou sur Seine”, a small castle located near Paris. From there, the command staff tasked their agents with missions all over Europe. The agents could choose their attire for each mission, from among all uniforms from all armies at all ranks, as well as civilian clothing. Kurt follows behind the Allied troops, first through France, then into Germany. He sends his reports to the castle on the Seine from the road.

In Essen (Germany) he learns about a former classmate, who rose through the Nazi ranks to Gauleiter (leader of a Nazi district) in Czechoslovakia, and who is in possession of detailed plans on the propagation of the Nazi party in underground groups after the war. Kurt has the impression that he has come across highly important material and immediately sets out to return to the “Chatou”. There, he places his report on the desk of the command staff leader and waits in his room for his return and his reaction.

Several hours go by before Kurt is called. “He said, ‘Kurt, what do you want me to do with this?’ I gulped and said, ‘Isn’t it important?’ – ‘It is very important. I didn’t ask you this. So what do you want me to do with it? I said, ‘Kick it up to Washington to the chief of staff.’ (…) He said, ‘You know what they’re gonna do with it? They’re going to file it.’ I said, ‘Isn’t it a good job?’ He said, “You’ve done an excellent job. But – forget about it. In a few months the war will be over. No one cares anymore.’”

During this time, Kurt often feels as if he is risking his life for nothing. One time, he is sent on a mission far to the front, all the way into Eastern Germany, to find a man who has been dead for many years.  In general, the past has caught up with him once again. In another report from Washington, he is again accused of disloyalty. His boss defends him and ensures that he isn’t dismissed from the CIC. So he continues to work in the spy business until he gets word from America that his father is dying. He petitions to be discharged from the Army.

At the end of the war, the CIC puts him in charge of establishing a military government in the small Bavarian town of Neubiberg, a task for which he is in no way prepared. Two entire companies of the Germany Army surrender to him and he has no idea what to do with these people. There was no place to house them and no food to feed them. Thousands of soldiers surrendered suddenly. Nobody knew what to do with them. And they themselves didn’t know, either. They had been without a mission or an objective for days or weeks. So they marched to any Allied installation and surrendered.

Kurt joins a command of soldiers who also don’t know what to do with their prisoners of war. When the Minister of Agriculture of the Nazi government surrenders to him, Kurt’s superior, a colonel, also has no idea what to do with him. In retrospect, of course, these are situations with comical elements.

But Kurt also witnesses horrible events. They encounter rows of corpses - people, who were executed at the last minute as traitors to Hitler and the German Reich. As they liberate a small concentration camp in the small town of Ohrdruf, they notice a strange smell even from the distance, a smell that is different from any they have ever smelled. It is the smell of burned human flesh. When they open the gate to the concentration camp, they see that the guards and executioners have already left. In a courtyard, they are stunned to find a pile of naked dead people, stacked up as high as a house. Smoke is escaping from the surrounding barracks, and burned human arms reach through the barbed wire over the windows. Everybody who was still alive as the U.S. troops drew nearer was locked inside the barracks and burned to death. Only a few dozen were able to save themselves. One of them, whose body was nothing but skin and bones, slides towards Kurt on his knees, and tightly hugs his legs with both arms. In a hoarse voice, he utters his gratitude.

Kurt finds out who the camp commander is and discovers that he was known for having tortured and killed prisoners with joy and premeditation. He forced the prisoners to empty out the outhouses with their hands and to bring the contents to his rose garden as fertilizer, where he beat them to death. Kurt arrests the man and sends him to a prison camp. One month later, he discovers that the man has been freed. There are simply too many like him.

After the war, Kurt Simon works as a program director, and helps create one of the first three TV stations in America. There was one in New York, one in Chicago, and the third one on the West Coast, "making television come true in California." He applies for the formation of a company union for his employees. But one day, a stranger arrives on the studio set. The stranger moves directly towards Kurt. Says Kurt, "He was wearing a felt hat and looked like a film gangster, but he wasn't. He pushed his finger in my stomach and said, 'You want to find yourself in a ditch?' 'No', and he, 'Then shut up.' (...) That's how the labor unions took over my television station." And Kurt's TV career was over.

After the war and his illness, and his extensive study of Peter F. Drucker’s writings, it becomes very clear to Kurt that he won’t realize his dream of producing movies as a studio employee. That is why be begins to work independently during the 1950’s, developing a market niche. He produces educational films for American schools and, in the process, utilizes everything that he has learned in his many jobs in the film industry. During the cost calculation phase, his experience as a time checker is of particular value. As he researches production methods, he finds that he can make do without his own studio. He plans far ahead and often only requires one production day per project. He rents the facilities and equipment for each project and hires qualified personnel on a per-project basis. At first, he produces below the profit margin to build a client base. Later, after he has become successful, McGrawHill and Encyclopedia Britannica are among his clients.

His production method of “one project at a time” makes it possible for him to develop the kind of lifestyle that he decided to live after his illness. He travels for many months, and visits the South Pacific often. He takes his time, avoids the large hotels in favor of smaller guest houses, where he leads a simple life. That is how he gets to know the natives and builds lasting friendships. To date, he has visited 120 countries. He never traveled first class. During that time, in the late 1950’s, he also built his home, by taking advantage of inexpensive credit for former soldiers (Veteran’s loan).

At a film festival in New York, Kurt Simon receives the “Award for the Best Educational Film”. Other prizes and awards follow. His work becomes easier and easier, and, over time his name opens all doors for him in the production area. Kurt misses the challenge. In addition, the market is becoming more crowded, since more and more educational films are made at schools by teachers themselves. So Kurt turns to production of cartoons. Once demand in this area started to wane as well, he retires from the business in the mid-1960’s, and invests the wealth he has accumulated, initially with an airline, and later on, in real estate. He buys and sells houses and properties, where he makes the most of his money.

One of the most interesting tasks Kurt Simon ever performed was his honorary appointment to the Grand Jury of Los Angeles County. Kurt had listened to a radio program during which there were complaints that the Grand Jury consists only of people suggested by judges. The next morning, Kurt Simon immediately reports for duty.

The Grand Jury of Los Angeles County consists of 23 members who are appointed by Superior Court judges for the duration of one year. They do not receive any compensation and have the right to examine and check everything that they consider of importance to Los Angeles County. In the performance of their duties, Grand Jury members can request to view any files and documents they deem relevant and are empowered to subpoena any witness, regardless of the position or office they may hold. If the Grand Jury encounters irregularities or illegal activities, it can re-open past trials or initiate new ones. The Grand Jury is also empowered to check the effectiveness of the administration of Los Angeles County and take measures to limit public spending.

Kurt Simon’s participation in the Commission to Monitor Spending Politics and his chairmanship of the Committee to Oversee Government Activity fortify his mistrust of government officials. To this day, he vehemently opposes all government measures that, in his opinion, limit the individual’s ability to make decisions freely. In general, he believes that, in most cases, money earmarked for the government is best kept in the wallets of the citizens.

For 15 years, Kurt has been living with his partner Atsuko, who is from Japan. She is more than 30 years younger than he is and there are substantial contrasts between the two of them with respect to their national origins and world views. He does many things for Atsuko’s sake, such as, for example, going out to eat in high-end restaurants, which doesn’t mean much to him. He now also prefers a more comfortable way of travel and selects hotels for Atsuko with some measure of luxury. They do not talk much with each other, but Kurt thinks that Atsuko’s constant observance of him helps him to take better care of himself.

Atsuko once tells him: "Poor Kurt, he has no purpose" and her comment gives him pause. He immediately decides to work on something new, and so, in the ninth decade of his life, he becomes a house builder. Over the last three years, he has built and the sold or rented 52 houses. This, too, strikes him as an activity that allows him to do something positive for this country, of which he is a citizen. After all, he is helping people acquire houses and apartments and earns good money in the process. Along with other investors, he recently bought a 5,000- acre property in Arizona, subdivided it and resold it, along with the right of way. Since he enjoys this kind of work and it is very lucrative, he has already bought a second large property.

But for Kurt Simon, 1981 is the year when at age 69 he says goodbye to his past and begins his future. He founds the Sovereign Fund, “Honoring Vision, Commitment and Achievement in the Pursuit of Individual Freedom”, because he feels that he owes something to the country that has opened up so many opportunities for him to pursue his happiness and realize his dreams.

The Foundation created by Kurt Simon awards annual prizes to honor individuals that have made extraordinary contributions to the advancement of individual liberties in America. The contributions made by the awardees – some of whom are completely unknown – are published by the Sovereign Fund so that they can serve as examples and an inspiration to others to value and protect the liberties guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. The prize includes a monetary award of between $10,000 and $25,000. The exact amount is determined anew each year. The total amount awarded between 1982 and 1998 comes to about $300,000. The awards are funded from Kurt Simon's private assets. Kurt has recruited knowledgeable friends to serve on the Foundation's Board of Directors. Board members contribute to the business aspects of running the Foundation and consult with respect to the selection and award process. However, the search for awardees and the final selection process is a task that Kurt Simon reserves for himself.

Some award recipients are linked to Kurt Simon's personal life experiences, such as, for example, Management Consultant Peter F. Drucker, whose writings inspired Kurt to leave his lucrative job at Warner Brothers within hours of reading Peter Drucker's words and set out for a future of working for himself. As the award recipient in 1986, Peter F. Drucker is honored for his publications whose goal it is to advance individual economic freedom and free enterprise.

In 1994, the award recipient is John E. Moss, a Democratic Congressman, who started an initiative in the 1950's for a Freedom of Information Act, which he achieves successfully in 1966. The new law gives all U.S. citizens the right to access information about files and documents created by the FBI. After the law goes into effect, Kurt Simon has the opportunity to find explanations for his defamation as a Nazi spy.

In general, awardees come from a very wide range of backgrounds, with respect to political position, as well as profession or celebrity status (or look thereof). The group of awardees ranges from Curt Silva, the founder of the Guardian Angles, a volunteer group whose presence and willingness to take action protect subway passengers and pedestrians in large cities, to Jack Kevorkian, who achieved international fame due to his highly controversial support for and implementation of euthanasia for terminally ill patients. At the time of this writing, Jack Kevorkian is incarcerated as a result of his most recent euthanasia case, which he performed in front of rolling cameras upon request of the patient. Another award recipient is Carl Djerassi, the "father of the contraceptive pill", who until that time was an unknown elementary school teach from Texas, who practices learning through projects and thus prepares his students for a successful life in America.

For several months a year, Kurt travels throughout the country without a previously planned destination in mind, searching for suitable candidates. In every town or city along his route, he interviews publishers of local newspapers, representatives of the local Chamber of Commerce and other well-informed committees. He always asks the same question: "Is there anyone in this town who has done anything for mankind or has especially done anything for American of for freedom here?" He rarely stays more than one night in the same location and thus manages to cover up to 8,000 miles over the course of one to two months.

Currently, Kurt Simon has much to do, as he always does. He is close to selecting this year’s award recipient, he needs to take care of the new development project in Arizona and he would like to accept an invitation from friends to visit Tahiti. All of these are activities that make him happy. Almost as an afterthought, he’ll celebrate his 87th birthday on June 10. He is proud to have reached such an advanced age. At the same time, he prepares on all levels for the time “when I’m in heaven”. In the process, every day he enjoys his life, Atsuko’s companionship, his house, the wonderful view, rising early and jogging in the morning and he is excited about all the new things that are in store for him.

Los Angeles, June 9, 1999

Ulrike Eisenträger


Translated from German by

Claudia Taake

July 2010

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