Grandson of Nazi who took over Jewish store tracks down owner’s descendants to apologize

Yet final yr, following an sudden advertising name, the 49-year-old businessman contacted a retired instructor in Israel to apologize for the actions of the grandfather he by no means met.

Growing up, Edelmann had heard rumors concerning the household enterprise and suspected it had beforehand been owned by Jews who had been compelled to promote to his paternal grandfather, Wilhelm.

Fascinated, the salesperson relayed the story to the corporate’s analysis group.

Two weeks later, Edelmann acquired a name from MyHeritage. They had unearthed two essential data: Heidelberger’s 1942 naturalization report from British Mandatory Palestine, and his headstone alongside his spouse, Emma, in northern Israel. What’s extra, they’d found that Heidelberger had a residing granddaughter.

The gravestone of Benjamin and Emma Heidelberger in Israel

Hanna Ehrenreich, an 83-year-old retired instructor, knew all concerning the store that got here to be referred to as Willi Edelmann. So a lot so, {that a} black-and-white image of it — bearing the sooner title of her grandfather — nonetheless adorns the partitions of her house in Israel.

Edelmann, who had misplaced contact together with his father after his mother and father divorced within the early 1970s, knew little about his paternal household historical past and had no reference to the affluent retail chain that had blossomed from the {hardware} store.

While the store itself now not exists, Edelmann’s household nonetheless owns the constructing, in addition to quite a few different properties within the city. He, nonetheless, has no stake within the agency.

Edelmann despatched a letter to Ehrenreich in English although MyHeritage — unaware that she truly grew up talking German.

Benjamin Heidelberger in his WWI German army uniform

He wrote: “I believe that if my family supported the injustice your grandparents experienced, it is our duty to take this into account and take over responsibility at least in getting in touch with you to listen and learn. As I am part of the Edelmann family I want to take the first step and listen to you.

“I do perceive that you simply won’t see any profit for your self personally in speaking to me. But with me understanding and having the ability to train my kids and probably different relations concerning the impression of specific historic choices, this would possibly assist them to make higher choices of their lives,” Edelmann continued.

“Currently, the political local weather in our nation is poisoned. There is a brand new antisemitism upcoming. I would like to guarantee that at the least my household won’t ever once more be liable for injustice skilled by others, however get up to participate for the weak,” he wrote.

After receiving Edelmann’s letter, Ehrenreich agreed to talk to him, and weeks later the pair spent 90 minutes discussing their families’ pasts on the telephone, in German.

Records showing Benjamin and Emma Heidelberger were naturalized in British Mandatory Palestine in 1942

“It was an excellent dialog,” Ehrenreich told CNN. “Thomas wished to hear how we had been. I mentioned we had been pleased, and we have now had a superb life.”

Ehrenreich told Edelmann that Benjamin Heidelberger and his wife, Emma — her paternal grandparents — used the money from the forced sale of their shop to flee to Palestine in 1938, just weeks before the horrific events of Kristallnacht, the wave of violent anti-Jewish pogroms that took place on November 9 and 10.

Ehrenreich’s parents had arrived in Israel earlier and she was born there in 1937. Sadly, her maternal grandparents remained in Germany and died under the Nazi regime.

“He was very moved and mentioned he was so pleased to hear the story from my facet — he was nearly crying,” she mentioned.

The Heidelbergers in Israel

Ehrenreich, who was close to her grandfather, shared his version of the events surrounding the takeover of the shop with Edelmann, allaying some of his fears and suspicions about what happened.

She said Heidelberger had often spoken of his homeland and kept a diary in his mother tongue.

In it, he wrote: “My enterprise successor, Wilhelm Edelmann, got here each first of the month to pay the lease, and despite the fact that he was a member of the Nazi celebration, he was an honest man and never an anti-Semite.”

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“In the autumn of 1937, we bought him our home for 10,000 Reichsmark, although my asking worth had been 15,000. In July 1938, we bought our store and warehouse for the cut price worth of 28,500 Reichsmark, the identical sum for which I had purchased it 30 years earlier,” Heidelberger continued.

“Under completely different circumstances, I might have bought it for 40,000. But again then many Jewish companies in Bad Mergentheim had been bought beneath worth,” he explained.

“One day, Edelmann got here to me and mentioned I ought to depart Germany as rapidly as doable,” he wrote. “There had been plans in place to act towards Jews and he felt obliged to warn me, his good acquaintance.”

Ehrenreich, who visited the shop on a family trip to Bad Mergentheim in the 1980s, told CNN: “I knew Edelmann was certainly the individual who purchased the store. I understood that he was a superb man, though he was a member of the Nazi celebration.”

Edelmann said he was deeply moved by the call and the pair have stayed in touch; he hopes to visit Israel in the future.

Concentration camp guard convicted in one of the last Nazi trials in history

“It was such an emotional second after I heard Hanna on the telephone and when she informed me about her grandfather,” he said. “Although her household was handled so badly she was very pleasant and did not maintain me liable for something.”

But while pleased to hear Ehrenreich’s version of events, Edelmann says he still has doubts about his grandfather.

“I do know my grandfather was an excellent businessman. When he was a scholar through the 1920s he was already a member of the Nazi celebration, which was earlier than Hitler got here to energy.

“So I don’t believe he was such a good man, I’m not 100% convinced. I doubt he didn’t take advantage of the situation.”

Edelmann feels that coming to phrases with the previous is a vital lesson for his kids, specifically his 15-year-old son, Finn, who began studying about Germany’s Nazi previous in highschool final yr.

Thomas Edelmann and his son Finn, who is now 15

“I want him to understand what history is, and what history means. Although he doesn’t have anything to do with this story, it’s our ancestor who has impacted the lives of a whole family who had a life in this country,” he mentioned. “I want him to learn and understand that whatever decisions he makes has an impact on someone else’s life.”

Roi Mandel, head of analysis at MyHeritage, informed CNN the corporate’s assist group is skilled to look out for distinctive instances which will require additional assist with analysis.

“Although we only had the name ‘Benjamin Heidelberger’ to work with, the weight of history lay heavily on our shoulders,” he mentioned. “We are delighted to have been involved in such an important reconciliation.”

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