Property editor of the NZ Herald

From Holocaust survivor to stellar career

Legal and business veteran Bob Narev blossomed after a childhood blighted by war, writes Anne Gibson.
Bob Narev, pictured this year at a Holocaust exhibition in Whangarei. Picture / Northern Advocate
Bob Narev, pictured this year at a Holocaust exhibition in Whangarei. Picture / Northern Advocate

More than half a century after he was sent to a Nazi concentration camp, Aucklander Bob Narev got a surprise payment from Europe.

"Out of the blue and some 60 years after the event, I received a payment of $15,000 from Germany, stated to be compensation for having been confined for two and a half years in a concentration camp," recalls the Theresienstadt survivor.

Then he tells how he was sent to the dreaded camp, in German-occupied Czechoslavakia.

"In 1936, my father was dismissed as a secondary school teacher because the Nazis considered that it was not appropriate for a Jewish man to teach non-Jewish children. My mother also was no longer able to pursue her chosen career.

"The family moved from Eschwege, Germany, to Frankfurt, where my father was able to teach at the only Jewish day school still operating. That school was closed by the Nazis in early 1942, by which time the family had to move to that part of the city where the Jews were still permitted to live.

"In August 1942, my parents and I, along with my two elderly grandmothers, were deported, with 1017 other Jews, to the concentration camp of Theresienstadt, where my father and grandmothers died."

Miraculously, Narev not only survived, but eventually made it to New Zealand and went on to a lifelong legal and corporate governance career that included being the founding chairman of Kiwi Property, chairman of the MFL Mutual Fund, and of companies in the Hugh Green Group.

As well as his many business roles, the 81-year-old Narev has been an honorary solicitor for various charitable and community organisations, a director of numerous private companies associated with his clients and a trustee of many entities established by his long-term clients.

Today, 60 years after he joined law firm Glaister Ennor & Kiff, Narev is still a consultant with a practising certificate, specialising in corporate, property, trust and estate law and as a notary public.

"Over the years, I have appeared as a legal expert witness in court and tribunal cases and still continue to do so."

Business runs in the family: one son is Ian Narev, chief executive and a director of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, which owns ASB in New Zealand.

Bob Narev's survival may have resulted from the fact that his mother was forced to work in a German armaments factory: the alternative was the Auschwitz death camp.

Over the years, I have appeared as a legal expert witness in court and tribunal cases and still continue to do so.
Bob Narev

"In February 1945, three months before the end of the war, my mother and I were liberated to Switzerland. My mother's sister and brother-in-law had escaped to New Zealand in late 1939 and tried to get permits for us both to come to New Zealand.

"Eventually, by reason of their daughter Ellen camping outside the office of a Minister at Parliament until he agreed to see her, permits were obtained and mother and I arrived in Auckland in November 1947. Our surname was then shortened to Narev for ease of pronunciation."

Without any English, the newly-named Robert Narev was due to start school for the first time at the age of 12, but the polio epidemic closed schools until mid-year and only correspondence tuition was available.

Business runs in the Narev family: son Ian is managing director and chief executive of Commonwealth Bank of Australia, owner of the ASB. Picture / Bloomberg
Business runs in the Narev family: son Ian is managing director and chief executive of Commonwealth Bank of Australia, owner of the ASB. Picture / Bloomberg

"A teacher from Howick District High School, where I was due to enrol, took pity on me and taught me enough of the new language to come first that year in Form 1 and second the following year in Form 2."

In 1950, Narev started secondary schooling at Auckland Grammar, then topped his class in each of the four years he was at the school. Among other prizes, he won the prestigious Churchill scholarship for English and in sixth form he got a junior University Entrance scholarship, achieving fifth equal placing in New Zealand.

Narev spent from 1954 to 1959 at Auckland University, getting a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in French and German, winning a senior scholarship in both subjects, completing a Bachelor of Law degree, winning the university prize for jurisprudence and being nominated for a senior scholarship in that faculty.

In November 1956, at the age of 21 and still in the middle of his law studies, he got a job with Glaister Ennor & Kiff.

Family has been the centre of his life.

"I have been married for 57 years to Freda (nee Malacki), who survived the Holocaust by being hidden by a Catholic family in Poland, at the risk of their own lives, after her parents had been murdered.

"We have three children and eight grandchildren, all of whom are resident in Australia."

He finishes the story of his incredible life with this: "Both Freda and I consider it important to tell our stories as part of Holocaust education and have done so for over a decade by invitation from schools and adult groups.

"Our message is widened by reference to all forms of discrimination and persecution, whether on the basis of religion, gender, ethnicity or social status. We regularly quote the 18th Century English politician and author Edmund Burke, who stated that the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

As for the $15,000 payment from Germany, Narev used the money to set up an outreach service for elderly Jewish people in Auckland.

Robert Narev:

Born: (As Robert Narewczewitz), in Eschwege, Germany, October 6, 1935

Parents: Father Erich, a secondary school teacher, mother Gertrud, an opera singer

Married: for 57 years to Freda Narev (nee Malacki), also a Holocaust survivor

Business positions include: Kiwi Property founding chairman, chairman for a decade; Kiwi Property director for 20 years; Director of Superannuation Investments and MFL Mutual Fund Limited for 20 years, last two years as chairman; Allied Finance and Investments director; Chairman of companies in the Hugh Green Group

Community groups include: Auckland Hebrew Congregation; United Synagogues of NZ; Zionist Council; Auckland Holocaust Memorial Trust; Dental Research Foundation; Hugh Green Foundation

- NZ Herald

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