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.

Through lucky cir­cum­stances some would call fate I got in con­tact with a man named Ben. In the des­per­ate sit­u­a­tion after the pogrom, his par­ents send him and his broth­er out of Ger­many. In the mov­ing book Ten Marks and a Train Tick­et: Benno’s Escape to Free­dom Ben’s daugh­ters tell their father’s sto­ry of cross­ing the Dutch bor­der ille­gal­ly with his old­er broth­er in Jan­u­ary 1939. The broth­ers were then lucky to be tak­en care of by the Jew­ish Refugee Com­mit­tee and send to Eng­land. They nev­er saw their beloved fam­i­ly again. Ben’s par­ents, Max and Gol­da Wisen, and their youngest son, Char­lie, stayed behind.

Like many oth­er Jews, Max had set up a tai­lor busi­ness in the house where the fam­i­ly lived in Fehrbelliner Strasse, north of the city cen­tre and Alexan­der Square. In a fam­i­ly pho­to tak­en in 1936 or 1937 (pic­tured above), one can see that the Wisen’s also offered mend­ing and dry clean­ing. Ben remem­bers how he loved to watch his father work­ing with a tape mea­sure around his neck and a pin in his mouth.”

Of course, I want­ed to help and find out more. Check­ing the Berlin direc­to­ry from the time peri­od, I could at least ascer­tain that Max Wisen first estab­lished his busi­ness in 1929 in a cel­lar of a house in Kreuzberg. In 1933 he is list­ed as a cus­tom tai­lor right in the mid­dle of the Sche­unen­vier­tel, where many Jews from East­ern Europe lived. In the same year he and his busi­ness seem to have moved to Fehrbelliner Strasse, list­ed in this street in the direc­to­ry for 1934. But then the traces ran dry. Ben’s father’s shop had not been reg­is­tered in the com­mer­cial reg­is­ter, which forms the back­bone of the Data­base of Jew­ish Busi­ness­es in Berlin. A com­pa­ny had to have con­sid­er­able turnover and sub­stan­tial cap­i­tal to be looked at as full mer­chant to be reg­is­tered in the com­mer­cial reg­is­ter; Wisen’s busi­ness was just too small for a reg­is­tra­tion, like thou­sands of oth­ers: sta­tis­ti­cal­ly, there were 250,000 busi­ness­es in Berlin, but only 50,000 of them were in the com­mer­cial reg­is­ter. Still, we have to stick to the reg­istries file, since all oth­er doc­u­ments relat­ed to com­mer­cial enter­pris­es were destroyed in the war. Alas, there is no way to trace lit­tle busi­ness­es back. 

A request to the archive of the Inter­na­tion­al Trac­ing Ser­vice in Bad Arolsen ellu­ci­dat­ed that Max was forced to work as a slave labour­er for a fac­to­ry in Berlin, and per­ished in 1940. In 1943, Gol­da and Char­lie tried to escape depor­ta­tion, but — accord­ing to a note I found coin­ci­den­tal­ly in the police files in the State Archive of Berlin in Lan­desarchiv — they were report­ed to the police by neigh­bours. Both were mur­dered the day they arrived in Auschwitz-Birke­nau, on March 131943.

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.

Relat­ed Content:

Christoph Kreutzmüller is cura­tor at the Jew­ish Muse­um of Berlin. After fin­ish­ing his dis­ser­ta­tion on Ger­man banks in the Nether­lands over 19191945 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. 

Adding Dimen­sion to the Online Data­base of Jew­ish Busi­ness­es in Berlin

Max Wisen’s Tai­lor Shop