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Open letter to the board of directors at the LBI New York

Dear Sir

I am writing to you with reference to your current exhibition:

Stolen Heart: The Theft of Jewish Property in Berlin’s Historic Center, 1933–1945 that is promoted on your website: https://www.lbi.org/2016/03/stolen-heart-exhibition/

The Stolen Heart Video Map: http://www.cgpartnersllc.com/fresh/post/video-map-charts-injustice-leo-baeck-institute/ illustrates the expropriation of five Jewish family homes in Berlin during the Third Reich.

Although I have not seen the exhibition personally, I would like to point out some historical inaccuracies, which detract from its impact.

Even today, the massive scale of Nazi expropriation of Jewish property is not fully appreciated and is all too often played down by some politicians, historians or simply ignored by those industry leaders in Germany whose companies were involved in so many ways in those Nazi-era crimes.

In 1989, I published Berliner Konfektion und Mode 1836 – 1939 – Die Zerstörung einer Tradition, second edition1994.  After German reunification in 1990, I had the opportunity to conduct research in former East German archives and at the Oberfinanzdirektion Berlin.  I discovered that roughly 1,900 small and medium-sized Jewish enterprises (only) in the fashion and textile industry were either confiscated, went insolvent due to bank restrictions against Jews or “aryanized” by German businesses or the Nazi state.   The total value of properties and businesses belonging to Jewish textile and fashion firms was the equivalent of what would be today about $1 billion.

The forces behind the confiscation was the Nazi interior ministry, the Victoria Insurance (still in existence and now a subsidiary of the global ERGO-Insurance company which has many branches in the US) and greedy German businessmen who leapt at the opportunity to get rid of Jewish competition.  A document I recently found at the German state archives reveals the intention of Nazi officials to take over functioning Jewish cloth businesses, which had large export quotas, for their own and well-known purposes. One of the leading Nazi politicians involved in this enterprise was Joseph Neckermann (between 1950-1985 Neckermann was the biggest mail order company in Germany) as well as the owner of the internationally known men’s fashion company HUGO BOSS.  Mr. Neckermann (CEO) built his company’s post-war fortune on the confiscated Jewish property and businesses. HUGO BOSS was deeply involved in exploiting and killing Russian prisoners of war at the concentration camp Lietzmannstadt/Lodz (where these poor souls were exploited as forced laborers producing German uniforms using the very same machinery confiscated earlier from Jewish firms in Berlin and all over the Reich).

Regrettably, I think your current exhibition is a wasted opportunity.  It does not display, and fails to illustrate, the catastrophe of the confiscations and the resultant crimes even though all the relevant information is available, having already been thoroughly researched.  Jacob Toury, a member of the LBI Jerusalem, wrote most of the history of the Nazi expropriation of Jewish firms and its scale in the LBI book, volume 42, published in Tuebingen 1984 (Jüdische Textilunternehmer in Baden Wurttemberg 1683 – 1938).  In his essay and research, Toury pointed out the vital role the confiscation of ‘Jewish fashion and textile businesses’ and property played to the Nazi state.

Having explored the history of the Berlin Jewish fashion industry in two more books over 30 years, (Berliner Konfektion und Mode 1836 – 1939; Ehrenfried & Cohn, novel, Lichtig Verlag-Berlin, 2015) it is clear to me that ignoring the scale of “state organized theft of Jewish textile and fashion firms” (a term I coined in 1992) seriously under-states what actually happened.

Besides, the number of restitution cases filed by former owners of Jewish fashion and textile firms that were based in Berlin between 1945 -1990 was roughly 470.  Most of these claimants received restitution, even though more should have done so but were unable to succeed due to missing documents relating to their former companies which languished in East German archives.  After German unification an estimated 100,000 claims were lodged with the German government and those responsible at the Berlin Senate.  In September 1990 a federal law (§4  and 5 of the Gesetz zur Regelung offener Vermögensfragen (Vermögensgesetz – VermG, ) opened the door for claims for Jewish restitution and Jewish property as well as other claims concerning property and real estate in the former eastern part of Berlin – and therefore Berlin Mitte – among other suburbs of Berlin.  1992 was the deadline for claims, but not for restitution, as the Jewish Claims Conference (JCC) stressed in its report 2014.  The bulk of compensated, often unclaimed Jewish property went to the JCC, which reached a deal with the German government in the range of $ 90m.  Furthermore, the JCC became the guardian of further compensation programs for individual survivors, pension funds and financial help for many Eastern European Jews.

In 2004 the BRDV (central German government office for such restitution claims – among other cases) was, and still is, in charge of negotiations for restitution either to individuals or with the help of the JCC.

Further information see the following links:
http://www.claimscon.org/what-we-do/successor/successor-recoveries/
https://www.gesetze-im-internet.de/invorg/BJNR012680992.html

To say, as the LBI in the exhibition does, there were only about 15 successful restitution cases in Berlin-Mitte after 1990 is simply a distortion of the facts and it ultimately minimizes the scale of stolen Jewish property and belongings in Greater Berlin and the restitution paid as well. Furthermore, even though the number of 15 restituted Jewish properties seems to be rather low, the BRVD pointed out to me, the fact that properties and the ground on which those buildings stand in the old center of Berlin – Mitte – were sold according to § 5 VermG, because nobody claimed ownership. This seems to me an outrageous procedure, but in the ultimate balance of things, restitution cash went to the JCC.  They, in turn, used that money to take care of Jews in Eastern Europe in particular (but also elsewhere) by establishing many extra funds for social issues.  Can there be justice in the final instance and after so many crimes and so much suffering? Possibly not. But those responsible did, as far as I can see, try.  An uncomfortable feeling remains.

As we all know, financial restitution did not compensate for the pain and loss of those whose property was expropriated. I personally have worked with US, UK and German lawyers on 73 successful restitution cases, i.e. Norbert Jutschenka, L. Lindemann and L. Seligmann (all of them belonged to first class fashion and clothing producers in the former East Berlin until 1935-39) after German unification.  Not forgetting the fur producers around Krausenstrasse and Jerusalemerstrasse near Hausvogteiplatz in Berlin (most of them Jewish).

In short, I would like to see the prestigious LBI make a greater effort to be historically accurate and, much more importantly, to mount an exhibition illustrating the full effect of the grand scale theft that happened in the center and outskirts of Greater Berlin (as opposed to exhibiting a mere 5 cases).

I would be most willing to act as a consultant to such a project. Incidentally, I donated some my research papers from which I wrote my books to the LBI in NY.  Feel free to consult the Westphal collection.  I am currently updating my book on the destruction of the Jewish fashion industry and am looking for an English translator and publisher.  If you were able to help me on this, I would welcome your advice.

Yours,
Uwe Westphal
Berlin

 

@ehrenfried&cohn

#ehrenfriedcohn

https://www.uwewestphal.com/

Die Arisierung, ein außerordentlicher Glücksfall…

Credits: GraphicStock

Credits: GraphicStock

“Verstörend und schockierend für meine Familie”

Erstmals äußert sich C&A-Eigentümer Maurice Brenninkmeijer öffentlich zur NS-Geschichte seiner Familie. In der ZEIT spricht er von Opportunismus und Herzlosigkeit.

 

Den Artikel auf Zeit Online lesen

 

“Die Arisierung, ein außerordentlicher Glücksfall…”

Die Recherchen in Sachen der NS Involvierung der C & A Familie Brenninkmeijer sind interessant, geben aber eben nur einen kleinen Einblick in das, was die modische Bekleidungsindustrie vor allem in Berlin seit 1933 antrieb:  Gier, Betrug, die Aussicht ohne jüdische Bekleidungsfirmen konkurrenzlos besser wirken zu können, erschreckender Judenhass.  Nach 1945 ging es rasch weiter: die Fähigkeit nach dem Krieg eine boomtown Berliner Mode zu schaffen, die fast ausschließlich auf geraubtem jüdischem Kapital beruhte.

Herr Brenninkmeijer, Sie haben weiterhin die Chance den Fokus etwas weiter zu ziehen.

Insgesamt wurden allein in Berlin zw. 1933 -1944 ca. 2 400 jüdische Textil und Bekleidungsfirmen “arisiert” oder deren Eigentum konfisziert. Ich hatte Gelegenheit mit gut 80 der ehemaligen (emigrierten) jüdischen Firmenbesitzer seit 1985 zu sprechen, in den USA, England und Israel. Die Geschichten ähnelten sich. Nicht selten wurden die jüdischen Besitzer von Modefirmen mit hohen Exportquoten mit vorgehaltener Pistole zur Vertragsunterzeichnung gezwungen. Restitution nach dem Krieg wurde kaum geleistet. So im Fall der seinerzeit prominenten Firma des Norbert Jutschenka, einer der großen Stars der Modeszene der 20/30er Jahre; die neuen arischen Besitzer verbrannten vor dem Jutschenka Geschäftshaus am Hausvogteiplatz die Firmenunterlagen.

Die Arisierung der jüdischen Modefirmen rund um den Hausvogteiplatz in Berlin „…war für uns junge, arische Moderschaffende ein außerordentlicher Glücksfall…“, kommentierte 1988 Detlev Albers, Top-Designer der 50er – 70 Jahre in Berlin/Deutschland, den organisierten Raubzug der Nazis auf die Modeindustrie.

Die Zwangsarbeitslager der Textilfirmen wurden logistisch von jenen Designern und Geschäftsleuten organisiert, die das know how aus der Vorkriegsmode gut kannten.

Und die Industrieverbände? Bis heute hat es keiner der Textil-und Bekleidungsverbände geschafft, die Tradition jüdischer Firmen vor allem in Berlin zu würdigen. In diesem Jahr hätte man Anlass gehabt die 180 jährige Tradition der Berliner Konfektions-und Modebranche zu begehen. Doch man ignoriert das lieber, im Schatten der Fashion Week, denn die Verwicklung der Branche in die Naziverbrechen soll offensichtlich nicht aufgearbeitet werden.

Es gehörten eben nicht nur Neckermann, Hugo Boss, Neckermann und – wie wir nun wissen – die Familie Brennikmeijer zu den Treibern des unter staatlichem Schutz vorangetriebenen Raubs auf die jüdischen Modefirmen, sie waren substantieller Bestandteil der Zwangsarbeit und der Konfiszierung jüdischem Eigentums.

Jüdische Firmeneigentümer die nach dem Krieg nach West-Berlin kamen, wurden vom Verband der deutschen Bekleidungsindustrie abgewiesen. Der Verein der Berliner Kaufleute und Industrieller (VBKI) stellte sich taub zu deren Forderungen.

Warum sich bis heute niemand der wenigen und talentierten Modedesigner und der Industrieverbände für diesen Teil ihrer Geschichte interessiert, bedarf der Erklärung.

Im Gegenteil dazu:  im Mai feierte die New York Times – und die Designer – 100 Jahre jüdisches Modedesign in der Männermode.

Herr Brenninkmeijer, machen Sie doch nun den nächsten Schritt und ermuntern die Branche, so wie Sie es für Ihr Unternehmen taten, den Blick in die Vergangenheit nicht mehr zu scheuen. Richten Sie einen Fonds für die Nachfahren der Zwangsarbeiter-Familien ein. Sorgen Sie für die Verleihung eines Modedesign Awards im Namen der jüdischen Gründer der Berliner Mode.

Literaturhinweise:

+ Uwe Westphal, Berliner Mode und Konfektion 1836 – 1939 – Die Zerstörung einer Tradition;  + Uwe Westphal, Ehrenfried & Cohn, Roman über den erzwungenen Untergang einer jüdischen Modefirma, Lichtig Verlag, Berlin.

Was nun? Großbritannien nach dem Referendum

Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung Hessen

“Nachdem David Cameron einen „fairen Deal für Großbritannien“ mit der EU ausgehandelt hat, kann die britische Bevölkerung am 23. Juni darüber entscheiden, ob das Land diesen akzeptieren oder die EU verlassen soll. Sowohl diesseits wie jenseits des Ärmelkanals wird heftig darüber diskutiert, was für wen die bessere Lösung wäre.”

Events Info

DISKUSSION MIT:

REINHARD BÜTIKOFER: MdEP, Co-Vorsitzender der Europäischen Grünen Partei, Brüssel

STEFAN KADELBACH: Professor für Öffentliches Recht, Europarecht und Völkerrecht, Goethe-Universität Frankfurt/Main

RALF SOTSCHEK: Taz- Korrespondent für Irland und Großbritannien, Dublin

MELANIE SULLY: Politikwissenschaftlerin, Leiterin des Instituts für Go-Governance, Wien

Moderation:

UWE WESTPHAL: hr2 kultur, Frankfurt/Main

DISKUSSIONMONTAG, 04. JULI 2016, 19:00 UHR
THEATERHAUS FRANKFURT,
SCHÜTZENSTRASSE 12, FRANKFURT/MAI

Hugo Boss – “fashion week in 1942”

German fashion icon Hugo Boss – Nazi history.

Keep an eye on HUGO BOSS’ fashion collection at the Berlin Fashion Week until 01. July 2016

Hugo Boss clothing was founded in 1924 in a small South German town. Soon they advertised for National Socialist uniforms. 

After bankruptcy in 1931 Mr. Boss became a member, sponsor of the National Socialist Party Nazi, and supported the SS in Germany.  With the promotion and large contracts with various Nazi organizations, Hugo Boss supplied and sold uniforms for all purposes.  Their profits increased.

Like most proto Nazi cloth producers, particularly those who confiscated Jewish fashion firms, they used prisoners of war and forced labor workers “…in the Baltic States, Belgium, France, Italy, Austria, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and the Soviet Union. According to German historian Henning Kober, the company managers were fervent Nazis who were all great admirers of Adolf Hitler. In 1945 Hugo Boss had a photograph in his apartment of him with Hitler, taken at Hitler’s Obersalzberg retreat.…” (source: Wikipedia)

Whatever happened to the Czech fashion designer Hedi?

You will find the same shocking facts many times throughout the Berlin fashion industry between 1933 and 1940.  Nazis confiscated and forced Berlins Jewish fashion designers to give up their business and or expropriated them. From once 2 400 Jewish clothing firms and export strong fashion industry in 1943 just a few were left.  The entire industry of creative fashion firms were destroyed. The effects are still present in the talent search more than 70 years after it happened.

Watch the Video: Bringing the Designs to Life 

Nazi action against Jewish fashion shops

fashion_5

I write from Germany as a journalist, broadcaster and author with experience of some 85 pending restitution cases involving Jewish property and businesses within the Berlin fashion industry. Dina Gold’s book hits exactly the right note. I wholeheartedly endorse Michael Pinto-Duschinsky’s excellent article “Holocaust Survivors Are Still Waiting For Justice” (March/April edition) and what he described as “everyday denial of their Nazi past and obstruction by some German corporations”. Actually it is, according to my experience, much worse than that. Although freedom of information exists and former East German archives are now open and available to the public, many new hurdles have been established for those seeking restitution and compensation. Data protection is a major stumbling block. Even Nazi confiscation documents of Jewish property issued between 1933 -1944 by German officials, insurers and banks are difficult to obtain. Another problem is that a new generation, those aged 30 – 45, who are only too well aware of the Holocaust are, nevertheless, more than happy to make use of the trade names of Nazi-era confiscated Jewish companies. Indeed, they now use these names for their own, newly established, businesses in the heart of the Berlin fashion industry. And thus, a fresh “cartel of silence” has been created by the next generation of Germans. At the same time, textile producer associations, the Victoria insurance company (which foreclosed on so many Jewish buildings during the Third Reich, including that of Dina Gold’s family), the Berlin Chamber of Commerce, university departments of history and fashion, even fashion companies themselves all deny, ignore and lie about the long lost tradition of Jewish entrepreneurship in the German fashion industry since 1836. Dina Gold’s book makes a decisive move toward bringing the issue of restitution and compensation into the 21st century.

The end of the fashion business as we know it?

end_of_fashion_business

Nun, es stimmt und dann wieder doch nicht. Wer zwischen Berlin, Wanne Eickel und Rosenheim aufmerksam darauf schaut was unter Mode verstanden wird, darf getrost wieder nach Rom, London und New York fliegen. gute, kreative Alltagsmode sind hier zuhause, leider nicht in Deutschland.  Insofern: Erwischt werden aber alle durch Industrie 4.0, die eben nicht nur die Produktion von Waschmaschinen und Autoreifen umkrempelt, sie wahrhaft global macht, sondern auch die Modeherstellung.  Übrigens, keine ganz neue Entwicklung die hier Die Welt beschreibt. Die Londoner Business of Fashion ( BoF) verbreitet die Nachricht seit schon zwei Jahren.

https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=10154012312109575&id=296958754574

To NPR Berlin

To NPR Berlin: a comment on “Life In Berlin: German Fashion Strikes Back

uwe_westphal_to_NPR_Berlin

I note with great interest your feature “Life in Berlin: German Fashion Strikes Back” and have a number of comments.  In view of the timing of the broadcast, January 27th being International Holocaust Remembrance Day, I am astonished that the historical context of exactly why Berlin is now trying to “find its place on the world stage of fashion” was not even touched on.

I am an expert on the pre-war Berlin fashion industry, having written the definitive history on the subject.  I have also written a novel, based on actual events that took place during when Berlin’s Jews were purged from the sector by the Nazis.

Christiane Arp of German Vogue is reported as launching a bid to further establish German fashion on the world market.  No doubt, she is correct in thinking there is tremendous potential in the city, great new talent and increased interest in Berlin fashion.  But this is nothing new – other efforts along these lines were launched at the end of 1980s, and then again in the mid-1990s, after reunification.  However, those efforts failed.  So why was that?

It is because the Berlin fashion world has totally disconnected itself from its own glorious past.  What Ms. Arp is doing, if she but knew it, is try to recreate the fashion scene as it existed in Berlin during the 1920s.  At that time it was a veritable powerhouse of creativity, based on an incredible influx of talent from all over Europe.  Berlin fashion 1922-28 was a mix of various arts and fresh – as well as controversial – ideas.

Sparked by Bauhaus design and architecture, the fashion industry was further fuelled by the amazing work of expressionist painters, film directors, actors, modern ballet, cabaret, theater and composers. Fashion designers of the Berlin Prêt à Porter market drew their ideas from the thriving art scene and, of course, from Haute Couture houses in Paris.

This all came to a dramatic end with the arrival of the Third Reich. Once Hitler was in power, fashion designers and business owners were severely discriminated against and their firms confiscated.  Their competition removed, non- Jewish fashion owners were able to step in and reap the rewards of a “Jew free” industry.

The Nazis were helped in their efforts to rid Berlin of its Jews working in the fashion business. The Victoria Insurance Company foreclosed on these Jews’ mortgages and handed their businesses, at knockdown prices, to pro-Nazi fashion designers and other enterprises keen to profit from Hitler’s National Socialism. (This is vividly portrayed by Dina Gold in her recent book Stolen Legacy: Nazi Theft and the Quest for Justice at Krausenstrasse 17/18, Berlin.)  The Berlin Jewish fashion presence and tradition came to a shuddering halt in 1939. One fashion designer with an outstanding career in Berlin during the 1950/60s said: Aryanization was pure luck for the non-Jewish firms.

An examination of the numbers of Jews affected is truly shocking.  A total of 7,000 Jewish fashion businesses were forced to close, leading to 20,000 Jewish tailors and skilled fashion workers being put out of work.  Recent estimates suggest that 9,000 Jewish staff members of the German fashion industry died in concentration camps.  The community of Berlin fashion designers alone witnessed some 4,500 members who either emigrated or were murdered in concentration camps.  A booming industry which had once employed 70,000 people, many of them Jewish, was utterly destroyed.

After the war, those who had profited from the Nazis’ racist policies towards the Jews enjoyed a short-lived revival, thanks to state subsidies that were handed out in order to promote Berlin as part of the free, liberal, Capitalist West. The lost fashion talent has never recovered.

Public recognition of those who created Berlin’s once thriving fashion reputation is long overdue.  NPR should put the record straight.

Yours, 

Uwe Westphal

Author:

Berliner Konfektion und Mode 1836 – 1939: Die Zerstörung einer Tradition,  Ehrenfried & CohnThe Bauhaus

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