Vox Tablet

When Berlin Meant Business

Berlin was once home to 50,000 Jewish-owned businesses. A historian is now obsessively reconstructing their demise.

May 20, 2013
The Jonass & Co. department store at its first location, Torstrasse 1, formerly Lothringer Str.(Photoillustration Tablet Magazine; original photo Bildarchiv Foto Marburg)

The Jonass & Co. department store at its first location, Torstrasse 1, formerly Lothringer Str.(Photoillustration Tablet Magazine; original photo Bildarchiv Foto Marburg)

Berlin has long had an anti-capitalist bent, part of its countercultural charm. But before the war, it was a more enterprising and bustling place, due in no small part to the nearly 50,000 Jewish-owned businesses located there. What happened to those businesses under Hitler is at the core of meticulous research by Humboldt University historian Christoph Kreutzmüller. While most of us are familiar with images of Nazi boycotts and smashed storefront windows, Kreutzmüller and his research team have assembled less familiar details about the escalating campaign of violence and administrative harassment that led to the demise of Jewish enterprises and, ultimately, the demise of the idea of Berlin as a center of industry and commerce.

Kreutzmüller’s findings were on display earlier this month in an exhibit at the Berlin Chamber of Commerce as part of the city’s yearlong reckoning with the 80th anniversary of Hitler’s rise to power. They can also be found (in German) in his new book, Final Sale: The End of Jewish Owned Businesses in Nazi Berlin, and in an online database of thousands of companies that used to exist in the city. Reporter Brian Zumhagen visited Kreutzmüller in Berlin to talk with him about his research and to visit several sites where Berlin’s forgotten Jewish enterprises once stood. [Correction: Christoph Kreutzmüller is currently a researcher and educator at the House of the Wannsee Conference in Berlin, and not, as stated in the piece, a professor at Humboldt University of Berlin.] [Running time: 13:28.]

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