Stolen Legacy: Nazi Theft and the Quest for Justice at Krausenstrasse 17/18 Berlin

Ankerwycke  2016

 

This meticulously researched and powerfully presented story examines how a prominent Berlin commercial building was taken from its Jewish owners, the Wolff family. The building, which housed the family’s highly successful fur business, was a notable structure from 1910 onward. In 1937, Nazi efforts led to a forced sale of the building, after which it became headquarters for the German railway system. The Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany in 1945 complicated legal matters regarding ownership status, and even after Germany’s reunification the status of such properties was mired in red tape.

Gold’s original text puts most of the pieces together. It also tells several stories at once. One is the background history of Jewish life in Nazi Germany; another is the engaging yet chilling family history; and yet another is the story of the author’s valiant investigative enterprise that had the ultimate goal of unearthing the truth and pushing for a just resolution of this particular and yet powerfully symbolic Nazi crime.

The new information heightens the third story and elaborates on the first two, paying particular attention to important pieces of previously unfinished business. Far more detailed information about the role of the Victoria Insurance Company is put into play. Did the company have other than ordinary business motives in foreclosing on the family for failure to meet its obligations? The answer is unearthed because of Gold’s ability to tap previously unavailable archives. These include not only the Victoria’s own records, but also substantial sources of information about two influential employees: Dr. Kurt Hamann and his predecessor, Dr. Emil Herzfelder. Following Jewish Herzfelder into the leadership of Victoria, Hamann was considered a leader of Nazi Germany. He and Herzfelder managed to manipulate decisions that benefitted both of them at the expense of Victoria’s Jewish customers.

Curiously, Hamann—whose name uncannily echoes that of the Purim story villain—was honored in 1979 by the University of Mannheim with an endowment in his name that funded prizes for outstanding dissertations. Once Dina Gold uncovered and reported the true nature of Hamann’s earlier Third Reich career, she challenged the university to change its mind about holding him up as a role model.

Her recent research also sheds penetrating light on the mysterious Fritz Wolff, the author’s great-uncle who renounced Judaism and had a complex relationship with other members of the Wolff family. Dina Gold managed to have a memorial stone set in a public place that recognizes his birth, imprisonment, deportation, and eventual murder in Auschwitz.

Beyond its unique focus and determined excavation of facts and understandings of this Nazi crime, the updated version of Stolen Legacy illustrates the changing nature of research in the computer age. Ever-expanding electronic databases allow skilled investigators access to materials that would never otherwise be discovered or accessed.

The chain of discoveries seems endless; absolute closure seems an illusion. Nonetheless, this book is a grand example of dogged investigative journalism. Gold is never satisfied, and she never backs off.



Discussion Questions

Courtesy of Dina Gold

  1. This book focuses on three strong female characters. Grandmother, mother and daughter. Which do you think is the strongest? Nellie, who left Germany with her children? Annemarie/Aviva who grew up far away from her family? Or the author who reclaimed her family's stolen property?

  2. Many Holocaust survivors do not want to talk about the past and what they went through. Dina Gold writes that her mother also felt that way. Was the author’s mother right to tell her to forget about reclaiming the building? Why did she say this and why do you think the author chose to ignore her and pursue the case?

  3. In the book’s foreword, Ambassador Stuart E. Eizenstat writes "there are several important lessons we discover from this impressive book" and he lists three of them. What other lessons can be learned?

  4. Fritz Wolff felt more German than Jewish. He was incarcerated in Spandau prison in 1933 and Sachsenhausen concentration camp in 1938. Yet on May 31, 1939 Fritz sent a letter to his brother Herbert in which he wrote “I maintain that this whole quarrel is a love quarrel between nations … If there is ever any question about which nation I belong to, the only answer is Germany.” Can you imagine what made him think this way after all he had been through? Can you empathize with him for not leaving Germany when he had the chance?

  5. Dr. Kurt Hamann, chairman of the Victoria Insurance Company, which foreclosed on the Jewish-owned building at Krausenstrasse 17/18, has a Foundation named in his honor. What do you think the University of Mannheim and ERGO insurance should do about the Foundation? (Does this echo with current events on campuses which are removing statues and names of controversial historical figures e.g. Woodrow Wilson and Cecil Rhodes?)

  6. There are annual Holocaust remembrance services. These focus on the industrial scale murder of the Jews during the Third Reich. But how well known is the story of the grand theft of Jewish property? And should it, too, be remembered? If so, how?

  7. The book’s title is “Stolen Legacy” . Apart from the building, what else was stolen from the Wolff family?

  8. Is Stolen Legacy purely a Jewish story or does it have greater universality?

  9. Ambassador Stuart E. Eizenstat writes about how European countries benefitted from seized Jewish property. Have these countries been sufficiently transparent and active in determining what should be done to rectify this injustice? When should the struggle for compensation end?

  10. To date, the building at Krausenstrasse 17/18 that was seized by the Nazis has no plaque recognizing its former Jewish ownership. The author has been campaigning for one to be placed there. Should one be affixed to the wall of the building, even though compensation has been given?

  11. This is the first book about the successful restitution of a building (as opposed to artworks). Why do you think this is the case?

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