Captain Martin Maxwell
By Myriam Brenner, FSWC Education Program Coordinator
Max Meisels was 14 years old when the Nazis invaded Austria in 1938. One day while the Nazis were on parade, Max and his brother Leo, who were also on the street, encountered an SS officer. He threw his boots at Leo and demanded that he restore them to good condition. This officer, strangely enough, took a liking to Leo and kept him on as his personal assistant. Before leaving Austria, the SS officer wrote a letter on behalf of Leo, stating that he was not an enemy of the state. On Kristallnacht, this letter fortuitously saved Leo and Max who were Jewish, from being sent to a concentration camp.
While Max and Leo’s three sisters were sent to Paris, the two brothers were taken to England through the Kindertransport and adopted by a Jewish family living in Manchester. Only Max, Leo and their youngest sister survived the war.
At age 18, Max joined the British Army and changed his name to Martin Maxwell in case he was captured by the enemy. After intensive training in several divisions, Martin became a glider pilot and on June 5, 1944, he flew a glider plane carrying British soldiers across the English Channel to France. Together with five other gliders, he was the first to land in Normandy the day before D-Day. Martin and the soldiers on these gliders were instrumental in preventing the Germans from sending reinforcements from the rear once D-Day began.
Unfortunately, on a subsequent mission Martin was captured in Arnhem, Holland and eventually interned in Fallingbostel POW camp where he was liberated in May 1945. Because he spoke German, Martin was tasked with war crime investigations. By the time he left the army in 1946, he had reached the rank of Captain.
Martin later joined his sister in Canada where he started both a business and a family.
In his free time, he shared the story of his escape from the Holocaust, lessons gained from the war and the importance of fighting antisemitism with schools, colleges and military bases all over North America and Europe. Often referencing an inscription on a tombstone in Holland, “For your tomorrows, we gave our todays,” Martin’s message to Canadians was to honour the sacrifice that the military and veteran community made - and continues making today - for our freedom.
Captain Martin Maxwell was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal and the Legion of Honour from France. He died in 2020 at the age of 97. He was the last of two known surviving British Jewish glider pilots of the Second World War.