On Friday, February 28, 1947 five of the eleven members of the JCB Committee on Children in Foster Homes met with Mary Lawrence and two staffers. Judge Brandi called the meeting to order in the cramped conference room and immediately deferred to Mary Lawrence. She spoke without any notes as staffer, Bertha Elman took notes that contained numerous, but mostly insignificant errors.

“This meeting of the committee on Foster Homes has been called to discuss the status of one of its children. The minutes of this meeting will be forwarded to New York so they can make the final decision,” began Mary Lawrence. The board members ate their cold sandwiches and drank from their warm bottles of Coca Cola. “The matter for review and consideration today is the adoption of a refugee child, Kurt Walker who was born on May 17, 1931 in Karlsruhe, Germany.”

Board members Julius Weiss and Lazarus Krinsley waved off the offer of another Coca Cola as Mary Lawrence continued amidst the usual sounds of laughing and screaming children running past the closed conference room door. “The father is Protestant and apparently worked in some capacity for the railroads. The mother is Jewish and is a dress-maker. If these parents alive today, they would be about 43 years of age. The young man arrived in Chicago on a corporate affidavit in August of 1942. The background information for Kurt admittedly has a number of holes, but the best that we have been able to determine is that the parents apparently divorced and I remember the quote, ‘under pressures of political developments in 1934.’ Apparently, during this process the maternal grandfather, Isaac (sic) was given guardianship of Kurt by the courts in Germany.

When Kurt was nine, he along with his mother and grandfather were sent with a forced transport to a Camp de Gurs in France. Kurt has a brother Heinz who was twelve (sic) at the time and remained in Karlsruhe with his father (sic) and paternal grandparents. We do not know what happened to the maternal grandmother. (sic)

After about a year (sic) Kurt was released and sent to Maison de Pupilles de La Nation. It was run by the French. His mother stayed behind. When Kurt came here he was described as a bright, attractive boy who spoke both French and German. He refused to talk or answer questions about his father or brother. Kurt was emphatic that he wanted to be raised as an orthodox Jew like his maternal grandfather; and not like his mother who was not religious. Before his arrival in the States, his total schooling was three years in Germany and three months in France.

There are some family members known to us, including a Mr. Roos in New York who showed very little interest in the boy. When Kurt came here, he stayed with the Kastels, an orthodox Jewish (sic) family who kept kosher. He was there for one year. (sic) There were a number of observations during that one year period. I would like to refer to the worker’s notes.” She put on her glasses and read:
“Kurt is a very likable boy, but he had brought with him many fears. He was afraid to sleep alone, and became hysterical at the sight of a clown on the street.
He wanted, very much, to belong to the family, and talked about marrying, ultimately, the foster parents’ child of 3, so that the foster parents would also be his.
He was fanatically religious, attended Services on Friday and Saturday. Ate with his hat on, would partake only of Kosher foods, etc…
…shortly after he came here he wrote a letter to his mother, which was returned marked “Address Unknown”. That letter was sent by Kurt on August 6, 1942. This was the last word regarding Mrs. Walker. There has been absolutely no communication from the mother or the maternal grandfather since that date, and according to the European- Jewish Children’s Aid Society it can be construed that the mother was probably killed. Kurt has a distant relative in Chicago, an older man by the name of Mr. Weil, who supports himself by selling Fuller brushes. This old man has occasionally visited Kurt but his visits seem to have little meaning. When Kurt was asked about his father he said his father was dead, and later he elaborated that he hated his father because the latter divorced his mother, and because he had been abusive to her, therefore, Kurt thought, ‘he might as well be dead’”.

The board members impatiently looked at their watches. Mary Lawrence was well acquainted with the significance of the wandering eyes and squirming in the uncomfortable wooden chairs. She quickly recited the remaining information.

“On October 1, 1943, Kurt moved in with the Wagners because the prior foster mother became ill. The Wagners have been married 23 years. He is 43 and she is 42. They came to us initially in early 1943, about adopting since they were childless. They are both educated. He is a college graduate and holds an executive position with an advertising agency. The wife, Belle is a high school graduate and was a stenographer before she married. When they first approached us, they stated their income was $8,000.00 a year; and importantly, wanted no financial assistance. Mr. Wagner is the Vice President of Olian Advertisement Company---he is presently earning $25,000.00. They enrolled Kurt in Francis Parker along with giving him private tutoring. Also, they became members of Anshe Emet, where Kurt attended Hebrew School. In October 1944, the family moved to a very comfortable apartment, 3270 N. Lake Shore drive, where he had his own room. Kurt has spent the last few summers at Eagle River with a classmate from Parker, who is the son of board member, Jack Pritzker and grandson of Nicholas Pritzker, a former board member.”

Upon hearing Jack Pritzker’s name, the board members applauded. “Mary, make sure that Jack knows we all applauded at the mere mention of his name. Better yet, tell his father. We don’t want to offend the son of the most powerful man in Chicago.”

After the laughter died down, Mary continued. “The Wagners brought Kurt to New York and sent him to a ranch for summer vacation. All costs for Kurt’s medical care have been paid by the Wagners. Most importantly, the Wagners look upon Kurt as their own child. They feel the adoption will give him added security.

There is one family complication. Mr. Wagner had a second heart attack in 1945, but has made a good recovery. He still has some limitations on his activities. For example he only goes to the office four days a week. He recently purchased a $36,000.00 life insurance policy.”
Mary Lawrence looked at the members. “So it’s up to you. I need to contact New York.”

“October 21, 1941
My Dear little Kurt!
I have had your dear little letter and am glad to know that you are well... I am so homesick for you. I am not at my best right now. I would be so happy if I could only see you. My dear Kurt, I should have liked to have sent you a little parcel by now but have not received anything myself. From your letter I understand you are well and I thank God for that.

Life at home was better than here. You know that I wanted to do everything possible for you as far as I was able. I like making your favorite dishes. Here it is always the same people who receive parcels and more dissatisfied than we, the poor ones. The poor are having a bad time…”