Jewish German Fashion Industry Flourished, Then Perished Under Nazi Rule
A near neighbor on Krausenstrasse was the H. Wolff fur company, founded in 1850 in Pomerania, an area on the southern Baltic Sea shore split between Germany and Poland. Initially trading in rabbit furs used in collars, sleeves and hats, the company became one of the largest fur fashion businesses in Germany.
Modernity, emancipation of women and homosexuality were all detested by the Nazis. Very quickly, the fashion industry fell under the scrutiny of those who scorned such individualism; nationalistic agitators wanted what they called “Aryan fashion.”
“It’s no surprise that the Nazis focused their attention on the fashion industry, and very soon after they came to power they embarked on a program of expropriation,” explains Westphal. “With 2,700 Berlin-based Jewish fashion companies, the fashion trade was, besides Paris, the largest exporter in Europe. These companies also occupied prime central Berlin real estate.”
In October 2018, a plaque was placed on the wall at Wallstrasse 16, a building seized by the Nazis in 1938 and used during the Third Reich to produce a million Judensterne (Jewish yellow stars) and swastika flags.
It was not until November 2018 that two memorial columns were placed in front of the building that was once the Herrmann Gerson fashion store and which now houses the Federal Foreign Office.
The Fashion Council Germany has not responded to a request for comment on the industry’s failure to recognize the Jewish contribution to Germany’s fashion history.
The Holocaust is widely taught in German schools and universities. There are museums and institutes where academics and researchers devote their lives to its study. And yet, an integral part of the story is the pivotal influence of Jews in the fashion industry, and how the Third Reich destroyed that legacy. That aspect has largely been overlooked. Perhaps, with the publication of “Fashion Metropolis Berlin 1836-1939,” that will now change.
Dina Gold is the author of “Stolen Legacy: Nazi Theft and the Quest for Justice at Krausenstrasse 17/18, Berlin” published by the American Bar Association. www.stolenlegacy.com
B’nai B’rith Active in Reparations Cause
During the first year, presidents Frank Goldman and, later on, Philip M. Klutznick were members of the Claims Conference Presidium, involved in forging agreements to provide direct compensation to victims and to procure funds to build and restore Jewish communities in Western Europe, the United States and Israel, all of the places where Holocaust survivors had relocated.
As Daniel S. Mariaschin, B’nai B’rith International CEO and present-day Claims Conference board member, noted in a 2014 article, B’nai B’rith’s magazine published several features about the role played by Goldman in fulfilling “a basic principle of justice.” Later, in 1954 in Washington, D.C., Goldman was among the delegation that urged Austrian Chancellor Julius Raab to settle claims with those whose assets had been taken by his government.
Benjamin Ferencz, noted war crimes investigator, attorney and B’nai B’rith member, advocated for survivors throughout his career. In 1966, he successfully prosecuted Rheinmetall, a Nazi arms maker that denied enslaving men, women and children in its factories. His 1979 book “Less Than Slaves” credited B’nai B’rith for its determination to shine the light on the case with the media and government leaders. Ultimately, Rheinmetall paid 2.5 million Deutsche Marks (the equivalent of $1.426 million in today’s dollars) to 1,500 claimants.
In May 1973, B’nai B’rith called on East Germany, then applying for admission to the United Nations, to do the right thing. Its International Council was included in State Department consultations with that country’s government, while presidents David M. Blumberg and William A. Wexler continued to fight for survivors as Claims Conference board members. At the same time, individual lodges around the world met the basic needs of former camp inmates in Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary and Romania.
In 1992, B’nai B’rith helped found the World Jewish Restitution Organization to help forge agreements with countries no longer under Soviet control. Later in the decade, B’nai B’rith launched an organization that assisted researchers of Nazi-looted art.