Christoph Kreutzmüller is the author of Final Sale in Berlin: The Destruction of Jewish Commercial Activity 1930 – 1945, a history of the German foreclosure of Jewish businesses before and during the Third Reich. Christoph is blogging this week as part of the Visiting Scribe series on The ProsenPeople.
Since 2005, I have been studying how the German National Socialist régime systematically destroyed and looted businesses owned by Jews in Berlin, as well as the ways that Jews responded to this persecution. This research was not just to analyze the Jewish owned businesses, but also to document them. After all, the families involved have a right, and German society has a responsibility, to know exactly where they were and what happened to them. This is why a database of Jewish businesses in Berlin was set up and made available to Berlin archives as well as Yad Vashem and the Leo Baeck Institute, New York.
Among the enquiries I have received was one by Christina Craig, whose grandfather had run a stationary wholesale business S. Hilsenrath in the Neue Grünstrasse 40 in Berlin — a street I pass every day on my way to work in the Jewish Museum.
The online version of my database states only the address and that the possession (not property) was transferred to a non-Jew in 1937. The unabridged database allows a deeper look: Sigmund Hilsenrath started a limited company in 1923. During the Great Depression it seemingly ran into dire straits and was stroked off the register in March 2, 1933. However, in summer of 1935 — in the midst of antisemitic turbulence leading up to the Nuremberg laws — he set up a new company under the name Szulem Hilsenrath. This company was officially transferred to a certain Oscar Winther in February 1937. That the company was Jewish according to the standards applied in my research was ascertained from the fact that it appeared as a member of the Association of Jewish Mid-tiers in September 1936.
Christina filled in many gaps to the business’ history and told me that her grandfather was born in 1895 in Kolomyja in Galicia. Like so many others, he was driven away from his home by pogroms and came to Berlin after the First World War. In the German capital, he first worked for a printer but set up his own company in Germany’s period of hyper-inflation. A year later he married Frieda, whose family ran another paper company, which was incorporated into S. Hilsenrath Ltd. in 1924. In 1932 Hilsenrath had to declare bankruptcy, and in October 1938 he was deported to the Polish border together with 17,500 other Polish Jews. Christina’s grandfather managed to return to Kolomyja, but was murdered while trying to escape a camp on June 5, 1943.
In October 1936 Hilsenrath sold the company to Winther, a Danish businessman living in Berlin. This transaction was only registered five months later. Winther bought the business for 15,200 RM, a very low price considering the companies turnover. The low price, in turn, most certainly did not provide the seller with enough funds to emigrate. He was deported almost exactly two years later.
Christoph Kreutzmüller is curator at the Jewish Museum of Berlin. His exhibition Final Sale: The End of Jewish-Owned Businesses in Nazi-Berlin has been shown in the Leo Baeck Insitute, New York, Hebrew University in Jerusalem and at Boston University.
Christoph Kreutzmüller is curator at the Jewish Museum of Berlin. After finishing his dissertation on German banks in the Netherlands over 1919 – 1945 at Humboldt University, he worked at as a senior historian for the House of the Wannsee Conference. His exhibition Final Sale: The End of Jewish Owned Businesses in Nazi-Berlin has been shown at the Leo Baeck Insitute, Hebrew University (Jerusalem), and Boston University.