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Grandson of Nazi who took over Jewish retailer tracks down proprietor’s descendants to apologize

But final yr, following an surprising 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.

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

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

Two weeks later, Edelmann obtained a name from MyHeritage. They’d unearthed two necessary information: Heidelberger’s 1942 naturalization file from British Necessary Palestine, and his headstone alongside his spouse, Emma, in northern Israel. What’s extra, they’d found that Heidelberger had a dwelling granddaughter.

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

Edelmann, who had misplaced contact along with his father after his dad and mom 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 ironmongery store.

Whereas the shop itself now not exists, Edelmann’s household nonetheless owns the constructing, in addition to quite a few different properties within the city. He, nevertheless, 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 consider that if my household supported the injustice your grandparents skilled, it’s our responsibility to take this under consideration and take over duty a minimum of in getting in contact with you to hear and be taught. As I’m a part of the Edelmann household I need to take step one and hearken to you.

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

“At present, the political local weather in our nation is poisoned. There’s a new antisemitism upcoming. I need to guarantee that a minimum of my household won’t ever once more be answerable for injustice skilled by others, however get up to participate for the weak,” he wrote.

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

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

“It was an excellent dialog,” Ehrenreich informed CNN. “Thomas wished to listen to how we had been. I mentioned we have been completely happy, and we now have had a superb life.”

Ehrenreich informed Edelmann that Benjamin Heidelberger and his spouse, Emma — her paternal grandparents — used the cash from the pressured sale of their store to flee to Palestine in 1938, simply weeks earlier than the horrific occasions of Kristallnacht, the wave of violent anti-Jewish pogroms that occurred on November 9 and 10.

Ehrenreich’s dad and mom had arrived in Israel earlier and he or she was born there in 1937. Sadly, her maternal grandparents remained in Germany and died underneath the Nazi regime.

“He was very moved and mentioned he was so completely happy to listen to the story from my aspect — he was virtually crying,” she mentioned.

The Heidelbergers in Israel

Ehrenreich, who was near her grandfather, shared his model of the occasions surrounding the takeover of the store with Edelmann, allaying a few of his fears and suspicions about what occurred.

She mentioned Heidelberger had typically spoken of his homeland and stored a diary in his mom tongue.

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

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

“Beneath totally different circumstances, I might have bought it for 40,000. However again then many Jewish companies in Unhealthy Mergentheim have been bought underneath worth,” he defined.

“In the future, Edelmann got here to me and mentioned I ought to depart Germany as shortly as attainable,” he wrote. “There have been plans in place to behave towards Jews and he felt obliged to warn me, his good acquaintance.”

Ehrenreich, who visited the store on a household journey to Unhealthy Mergentheim within the 1980s, informed CNN: “I knew Edelmann was certainly the one that purchased the store. I understood that he was a superb man, though he was a member of the Nazi occasion.”

Edelmann mentioned he was deeply moved by the decision and the pair have stayed in contact; he hopes to go to Israel sooner or later.

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

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

However whereas happy to listen to Ehrenreich’s model of occasions, Edelmann says he nonetheless has doubts about his grandfather.

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

“So I do not consider he was such a superb man, I am not 100% satisfied. I doubt he did not benefit from the scenario.”

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 need him to know what historical past is, and what historical past means. Though he would not have something to do with this story, it is our ancestor who has impacted the lives of a complete household who had a life on this nation,” he mentioned. “I need him to be taught and perceive that no matter choices he makes has an affect on another person’s life.”

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

“Though we solely had the identify ‘Benjamin Heidelberger’ to work with, the burden of historical past lay closely on our shoulders,” he mentioned. “We’re delighted to have been concerned in such an necessary reconciliation.”


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