Ian Robert Maxwell MC (10 June 1923 – 5 November 1991) was a Czechoslovakian-born British media proprietor and former Member of Parliament (MP), who rose from poverty to build an extensive publishing empire, which collapsed after his death due to the fraudulent transactions he had committed to support his business empire, including illegal use of pension funds.
Robert Maxwell was born Ján Ludvík Hoch in the small town of Slatinské Doly, Carpathian Ruthenia, the easternmost province of pre-World War II Czechoslovakia (now part of Slatina-Doly (in Russian Solotvino ) Ukraine) into a poor Yiddish-speaking Jewish family. His parents were Mechel Hoch, and Hannah Slomowitz. He had 8 siblings. In 1939, the area was reclaimed by Hungary. Most of his family was killed after Hungary was occupied in 1944 by its former ally, Nazi Germany but he had already escaped, arriving in Britain in 1940 as a 17-year-old refugee. He joined the British Army Pioneer Corps in 1941 and transferred to the North Staffordshire Regiment in 1943. He fought his way across Europe from the Normandy beaches, at which time he was still a sergeant, to Berlin. His intelligence and gift for languages gained him a commission in the final year of the war, and eventual promotion to captain, and in January 1945 he received the Military Cross. It has been alleged, after his death, that in the same year he shot and killed the mayor of a German town which his unit was attempting to capture. It was during this time that he changed his name several times, finally settling on Ian Robert Maxwell. He almost never used the "Ian", however; he only retained it as a vestige of his original name. Also in 1945, he married Elisabeth "Betty" Meynard, a French Protestant woman, with whom he had nine children with the goal of "recreating the family he lost in the Holocaust. Five of them were subsequently employed within his companies; two died early (a daughter to leukaemia; a son following a car accident after six years on a life support machine).
After the war, Maxwell first worked as a newspaper censor for the British military command in Berlin in Allied-occupied Germany. Later, he used various contacts in the Allied occupation authorities to go into business, becoming the British and United States distributor for Springer Verlag, a publisher of scientific books. In 1951 he bought Pergamon Press Limited (PPL), a minor textbook publisher, from Springer Verlag, and went into publishing on his own. He rapidly built Pergamon into a major publishing house. By the 1960s, Maxwell was a wealthy man, while still espousing in public the socialism of his youth. However, it would appear that he already had been identified as a problem for some people. An obituary for the Barclays banker Thomas Ashton states: "One Oxford resident who came to Ashton's attention was Robert Maxwell – to whom Ashton firmly forbade his managers to lend."