Thomas Kremer, who has died aged 87, was a true polymath — a Holocaust survivor who succeeded in several disparate careers; as an entrepreneur, author, philosopher and Zionist.
Kremer was born in Cluj [Klausenburg], Transylvania, then part of Romania but later Hungary, the son of Bernhard, an army officer and electrical retailer and his wife Lilli (née Heller). Following the Nazi occupation of Hungary he owed his life to Erno Kastner, whose brother Rudolf controversially negotiated with Adolf Eichmann for the salvation from Auschwitz of around 1,600 named Hungarian Jews (including Kremer, who was number 907 on the Kastner list) in exchange for gold, jewels and cash. The so-called “Kastner Train” (1944) was diverted from Auschwitz to Bergen-Belsen and Switzerland, where Kremer and his mother were liberated in January, 1945.
Kremer went to Palestine, and fought for Israel’s independence. He then studied philosophy at Edinburgh University, and continued his education at the Paris Sorbonne and at King’s College London. After that he turned to game design. A pioneer of game-based therapy for disturbed children, his educational games were adopted by British schools. A professional inventor, he created over 250 games and toys, and chaired a number of international companies in these fields.
In 1963 he married Lady Alison Balfour, daughter of the 3rd Earl of Balfour and great grandniece of the author of the Balfour Declaration. In 1979 they bought an Elizabethan manor house in Devon which they painstakingly restored. That year, at the Nuremberg toy fair, Kremer saw the commercial potential of the Rubik’s Cube, the three-dimensional puzzle that Ernö Rubik had invented five years before. On behalf of his game and toy invention company Seven Towns, established in 1963, Kremer bought the licence to the Cube, and sold it to the Ideal Toy Company. By 1983 Ideal had sold 300 million Cubes worldwide.
Meanwhile, Kremer turned his attention to Britain’s role in Europe. In his book The Missing Heart of Europe: Does Britain Hold the Key to the Future of the Continent? (2004), he insisted that the British were not quite European. They were inherently “eccentric” or divergent, whilst the French and Germans were “concentric”, preferring power to be centralised. Kremer objected to the “concentric” obsession with “standardisation.” Not surprisingly, he was a natural champion of Brexit.
In 2011, concerned that the art of essay-writing was being lost, he founded Notting Hill Editions, with the avowed object of re-establishing the essay as a mainstream writing form. The press re-publishes the works of distinguished essayists and sponsors a biennial essay prize; its first recipient was the Canadian philosopher Michael Ignatieff, whose winning essay on Raphael Lemkin celebrated the work of the Russian-born Jewish lawyer who coined the word genocide during the Second World War. Kremer is survived by their children, David, Amanda, Kim and five grandchildren. Lady Alison pre-deceased him.
Thomas Kremer; born May 26, 1930. Died June 24, 2017