unizeit Schriftzug

Robbery and restitution

"Aryanisation" - The National Socialists (Nazis) used this term to cover up an act of theft that is unparalleled in recent history. How the state-prescribed absorption of Jewish wealth took place has been investigated for the first time for a German area state using the example of Schleswig-Holstein.

Historic view of Kappeln's Mühlenstraße around 1910
© Archiv Philipsen

View of Kappeln's Mühlenstraße around 1910. The shop 'Alfred Eichwald' was also boycotted and later even vandalised. Seven family members were murdered by the Nazis.

The National Socialists (Nazis) used this term to cover up an act of theft that is unparalleled in recent history. How the state-prescribed absorption of Jewish wealth took place has been investigated for the first time for a German area state using the example of Schleswig-Holstein.

"‘Every buyer endeavours to buy as cheaply as possible.’ – Theft, restitution and reparation of Jewish property in Schleswig-Holstein." This is the title of the doctoral research by Sven Hamann, which received the best grade of opus eximium (outstanding work) from Professor Manfred Hanisch. Sven Hamann completed his history degree at Kiel University in 2008, currently works as a secondary-school teacher in Ahrensburg, and also holds a teaching post in Didactics in History at Kiel University.

Yet his busy professional life is not the only reason that the historian’s doctoral research paper has taken so long to complete; it also required a great deal of research. Hamann: "Unlike in well-studied conurbations such as Hamburg or Mannheim, which have a manageable body of source material, research in an area state necessitates consulting a disproportionately higher number of institutions. There are countless tax authorities or regional archives where something could be unearthed and all this takes time."

The reward for such efforts is, among other things, the finding that Schleswig-Holstein is a special case in many respects. While the Jewish share of the population of the German Empire in 1933 was 0.8 percent, this value stood at just 0.13 percent in its most north-westerly province, equating to merely one sixth. It is also notable that 36.8 percent of Jews were of foreign nationality in the high north, whereas the figure for the Empire as a whole was only 23.3 percent. In large part, Sven Hamann considers this to be due to a strong increase in Jewish immigration from Eastern Europe after the First World War. "Many of them probably wanted to continue onwards to places such as the USA, but then decided to remain in Schleswig-Holstein," speculated the historian.

The fact that the process of "Aryanisation" was very different here than in the city of Hamburg is also linked to the social structure among the foreign portion of the Jewish population. In the Hanseatic city, numerous companies of international standing were under Jewish ownership, while further north this concerned mainly very small businesses. These were hit with full force by the Empire-wide boycott of Jewish businesses on 1 April 1933, whereas the globally networked firms in the Hanseatic city were spared at the behest of the Nazi government. The systematic expropriation then continued through a number of different channels. Those who left Germany early on because of the antisemitic repressive measures were mostly able to sell their worldly goods at decent prices; later however, Hamann asserts, the dramatically increased threat alone pushed prices down. The profits made through "Aryanisation" remained predominantly in the hands of state offices. This was made manifest during the "Holland campaign", in which the property of emigrating Jews that was in storage close to Amsterdam was made available to the bombed-out population of Lübeck in July 1942. "However, only some of the things arrived in the Hanseatic city; valuable items had already been stolen," reported Hamann. The remainder was mostly in such poor condition that even the newly homeless were largely uninterested in it. All in all, Hamann considers the "Holland campaign" to be a perfect example of how "Aryanisation" was exploited for propagandistic purposes, and served first and foremost to make money for state offices.

Having said that, there are certainly stories such as that of a master decorator originally employed by Karstadt department stores who secured himself a Jewish business for little money and thus became very wealthy. When it came to restitution or compensation, however, Hamann’s research showed that things usually didn’t go quite so smoothly. The state of Schleswig-Holstein roundly rejected drafting its own state compensation act until the issue was cleared up by a federal compensation act passed in 1956 with retroactive effect from 1953.

"Because there continued to be antisemitic prejudice," the victims had big problems asserting their claims, said the researcher, citing the example of Kiel resident Max Berger, who later became Israeli ambassador in Tokyo under the name of Moshe Bartur. His claim for compensation for his parents’ textile company was rejected in court. Not until the highest political circles pointed out the relevance of the case to foreign affairs was compensatory payment finally made.

The dissertation "‘Every buyer endeavours to buy as cheaply as possible.’ – Theft, restitution and reparation of Jewish property in Schleswig-Holstein" is scheduled for publication at the end of the year.

Author: Martin Geist