Tuesday 19 May 2009 by mickel. 4 comments
Personal Stories, Family history, Collection

As an assistant curator at the Australian War Memorial, I deal with many personal stories of Australians and other nations during war time. One story has really inspired me lately, that of Ludwig Marx. I had an email from his granddaughter recently about his service medals we hold in the collection. As I read the catalogue records, the brief description "served German Army in the First World War, Imprisoned at Dachau" grabbed me. I wanted to know more about Ludwig, not only to assist me in re-cataloguing his medal group, but to know more about his life and what led him from Germany to Australia. My research, with the assistance of Ludwig's granddaughter, has uncovered the story of his incredible journey to Australia.

Ludwig Marx was born on 19 January 1892 at Krefeld, near Dusseldorf in Germany. As a young man, he worked in his father's real estate and mortgage broking business. He learned how the property market worked and assisted his father in making the business successful.

Ludwig Marx, Tilsit, Russia c1916 (photograph courtesy of Lindy Stockwell, Geoff and Warwick Marx) Ludwig Marx, Tilsit, Russia c1916 (photograph courtesy of Lindy Stockwell, Geoff and Warwick Marx)

When the First World War began, Marx enlisted in the Imperial German Army as a private and was sent to fight on the Eastern Front. Fighting in Austria, he was wounded when a trench collapsed on him during a bombardment. He was sent back to Germany to recover from his wounds. Marx was then sent to the Western Front where he served until being invalided from the Army in 1918. During his service, he refused all promotions, choosing to remain close to his comrades.


Austrian War Commemorative Medal (1914-1918) with crossed swords device, ribbon bar and lapel badge Austrian War Commemorative Medal (1914-1918) with crossed swords device, ribbon bar and lapel badge

After returning to Germany, Marx returned to his family's business in the Rhineland, where he assisted in making the company the largest real estate agency in the region. He studied economics, marketing and valuation and became a member of the Real Estate Institute. He also became a consultant to the Cologne City Council during this time.

Marx was active in the Rhineland Returned Services Association in Cologne where he provided assistance to his former comrades. In the post war years, Marx did not accept his war pension, instead he asked for it to be donated to other veterans who were in need. He became president of the association and during his tenure in this position, arranged for and oversaw the erection of the city's War Memorial.

Hungarian World War Commemorative Medal with Helmet and Swords and miniature medal Hungarian World War Commemorative Medal with Helmet and Swords and miniature medal

During this period, Ludwig began his own family. He married Elisabeth on 14 June 1926 and their first child, Wolfgang was born in October the following year. Gabrielle followed in May 1931 and their third child Marianne, was born in January 1933.

Cross of Honour for the Great War 1914-1918 (Combatants) Cross of Honour for the Great War 1914-1918 (Combatants)

That year, Hitler came to power in Germany, an event that was to have a significant impact on Marx's life. He joined a small group of people in Cologne who were opposed to the new government. Some of the notable members of this group included Konrad Adenauer, who became the first Chancellor of West Germany, Oskar Schmidt, editor of the Cologne Newspaper and August Dresbach, finance editor of the Cologne newspaper and later President of the West German senate. Members of this group became part of a wider network in Germany and abroad who were opposed to Hitler's regime.

Pair of civilian lapel badges bearing the Guards Star of Prussia Pair of civilian lapel badges bearing the Guards Star of Prussia

Marx travelled to England in 1936 on behalf of his group to warn the British Government about the developing situation in Germany. He was ignored and returned to Germany. His journey had not gone unnoticed by the authorities in Germany.

In 1938 Marx and his brother Wilhelm were arrested by the Gestapo for their political and religious views. Initially they were imprisoned at Brauweiler. The brothers spent two days there, after which they were transferred by train to Dachau. Ludwig was given the prisoner number 27219 and was housed in block 26 room 4.

Aerial photograph of Dachau Concentration Camp Aerial photograph of Dachau Concentration Camp

During his six week imprisonment, Marx's network of friends exerted pressure on the relevant Government authorities to have him released. He was freed from Dachau early in 1939 and his brother Wilhelm 3 days after. Upon his release, Marx was forced to sign all of his assets over to the state and leave Germany.

Ludwig and Elisabeth applied to the British Consulate in Cologne for travel visas for Australia. They waited several months before their documents were issued. The Marx family left Germany for Holland by rail on 10 May 1939 and upon arrival in Amsterdam, boarded the Dutch cruise liner 'Christiaan Huygens' bound for Batavia. The family changed ships in Batavia and travelled in the 'Nieuw Zeeland' to Sydney where they arrived on 7 July 1939.

During the process of buying furniture for the family home in Sydney, Ludwig talked with a salesman about his life in Germany. The saleman revealed to Ludwig that he too had been born in Germany and after emigrating to Australia, had served with the AIF at Gallipoli. Ludwig bought his furniture from this man, but this was not the end of their association.

Ludwig initially found employment in a leather tanning factory but began working in a propeller factory as military aircraft production was increased for the Second World War. It was in this job that he was approached by a member of the Sydney Police Criminal Investigations Branch.

The Police Officer approached Ludwig and offered him a role in assisting the CIB interrogating prospective German internees. The officer was none other than the man who had sold Ludwig his furniture. He had remembered Ludwig and after joining the Police, had come to seek Ludwig's assistance. Marx agreed to assist the CIB voluntarily and his employer gave him the time off when he was required by the police.

Hay, NSW: The guard house and the main gates of no. 7 compound. Hay, NSW: The guard house and the main gates of no. 7 compound.

He designed a simple test for those Germans claiming they had been interned in a concentration camp. He would ask the interviewees if they could draw the latrine block of their camp, those that couldn't do so were sent to the internment camp at Hay. The overall plans of the concentration camps were similar, each barrack block being laid out like stables and the latrines set up in a similar way.

Following the Second World War, Ludwig and his children became naturalised Australians. This took place on 7 December 1945 with Elisabeth being naturalised on 31 January the following year. Ludwig also set up and ran Ludmar Pty. Ltd. in Sydney, returning to his passion for the real estate and mortgage broking industry. Ludwig Marx passed away at the age of 67 on 13 October 1959.


Bob Meade

Thank you so much for this story. Another great Australian immigrant success story.

Jim Kelly

Great article Mick, and well researched. We look forward to your further research results.

John Scott Palmer

Well done Mike! A very interesting article. I too look forward to your next piece of research.

Chris Brothers

Thank you Mike, this is a great story. You can imagine the fear the families felt in Germany when people stood up for what they believed in, and thankful that the Marx family were able to leave when they did, and come (all that way) to Australia. He was certainly a very generous man, and reading about all that he and his family accomplished considering the hardships they had to endure is truly inspiring. Well Done.