Manfred Durst

The business acumen of a 14-year-old Kindertransport entrepreneur in the making


He arrived alone in Britain on the Kindertransport in January, 1939. Aged 14, he was armed with a ten shilling note and a watch, which had stopped. Quoted up to £1 to repair it, he concluded the jewellery business must be the most profitable to enter. Seven years after the day his watch stopped, Manfred Durst, who has died aged 95, launched his jewellery business.

Many years later, Manfred, affectionately known as Freddie, recalled his last days in his home town of Munich with his parents Paula and Chaim Baruch and his sister. They were woken at 3am one morning in September, 1938 with the proverbial knock on their door. “Thugs in brown shirts demanded that my father, sister and I pack a few things and go with them, in a black Maria to Stadelheim prison just outside Munich. After three days in prison, about 200 families were taken to the main railway station under armed guard. The train went east to Poland. After approximately 48 hours the train stopped near the border and we were informed that we would be returning to Munich.”

Munich was allocated 10-12 places on the Kindertransport and Manfred’s father readily accepted. The children were each allowed one suitcase with one change of clothing and a ten shilling note. On January 3, 1939, after a brief goodbye at the station, most of them never saw their parents again. The train went to Frankfurt and the next day to Hook of Holland from where they took an overnight ferry to Harwich. “When we crossed the German border into Holland and saw the last swastika flags and the first Dutch flags, it was an indescribable feeling even for a 14-year-old boy,” Freddie recalled.

He stayed at a designated camp in Dovercourt Bay, near Harwich, and then at a boys’ hostel in London’s north Kensington. He attended the local council school, where he felt strange because none of his crowd could afford uniforms. “After some months my form master spoke German quite fluently!” he recalled.

At the outbreak of war in September, 1939 the school was evacuated to a Wiltshire village. He stayed with a kindly family, looked after an allotment, fed chickens and joined the boy scouts. But at 16, he returned to the Kensington hostel, where he was apprenticed to a firm of diamond mounters near Hatton Garden. He learned the jewellery craft while sweeping up, making tea and doing errands. His daily trip to the London Assay Office to check the jewels’ purity involved risking his own life and his valuable parcel to air raids. At the time he also took evening classes at the Central School of Arts and Crafts.In 1941 his firm switched to servicing automatic pilots and bombsights, both gyroscopic instruments for the Royal Air Force. He volunteered to join the RAF but had a five-year contract with his employer.

In 1946 he launched his jewellery business with a friend, John Najmann. Its name, Fred Manshaw Ltd, reflected his interest in the works of George Bernard Shaw, but as the two were not British subjects they found two British directors to whom they issued one share each, until they became naturalised in 1948 and could transfer the shares back.

They opened a small workshop off Hatton Garden, making faceted wedding rings. He took 36 rings to West End jewellers and by the time he reached Selfridges he had sold them all. With no commercial training, he learned to navigate the minefields of purchase tax, costing, charging and profits. Because customers paid at the end of the following month, his funds soon ran out. Fortunately, “two or three bullion dealers who knew me as an errand boy gave me one month’s credit to buy gold”.

Soon the company employed other jewellers and trainees, the first two arriving from Bergen Belsen. Visiting manufacturing jewellers’ workshops in New York and San Francisco, he discovered the lost wax casting process, which meant an article which normally took one hour to make could be repaired and made in minutes.

Armed with secret sketches to reproduce the machines required, he returned to the UK and had them copied. By 1951 the company was showing at trade fairs and opened accounts with mail order companies, multiples and buying groups.

Major changes occurred when most of their retail multiple customers were taken over by the Ratner Group. In his role as chair of the British Jewellers’ Association (BJA), Freddie tried in vain to have the takeovers halted. He deeply regretted what he saw as the “monopolisation of the high street”.

On retirement, Freddie gave time, advice and financial assistance to a group of retirement homes for former refugees and also ran a day centre. He remained active on the BJA and British Jewellery and Giftware Federation, and served on the British Hallmarking Council for 15 years.

He married Marion Hofheimer, also from Munich, on June 28, 1951. She pre-deceased him last year. He is survived by his son Michael, daughter-in- law Ilana, granddaughters Carly and Lisa and a great granddaughter.


Manfred Durst: born November 11, 1924. Died June 7, 2020

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