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.
Philip K. Jason is professor emeritus of English at the United States Naval Academy. A former editor of Poet Lore, he is the author or editor of twenty books, including Acts and Shadows: The Vietnam War in American Literary Culture and Don’t Wave Goodbye: The Children’s Flight from Nazi Persecution to American Freedom.