German son apologises for his Nazi grandfather by tracking down the descendents of Jewish shopkeeper whose hardware store he seized
- Thomas Edelmann, 49, wrote to Israeli Hanna Ehrenreich, 83, to apologise
- Her grandfather was forced to sell his store in Bad Mergentheim to the Nazi
- He fled Germany with his wife Emma a few weeks before Kristallnacht
The grandson of a Nazi who took over a Jewish man’s store tracked down his descendants in Israel to apologise.
German businessman Thomas Edelmann, 49, received a marketing call last year that allowed him to reach out and apologise for the actions of the grandfather he never met.
The father-of-two came across Nazi tax records confirming that Jewish owner Benjamin Heidelberger sold his hardware store in Bad Mergentheim, southern Germany, to Wilhelm Edelmann.
Anti-semitic Nuremburg laws, which allowed Germans to confiscate Jewish property, forced Mr Heidelberger to sell in 1938.
German businessman Thomas Edelmann (left), 49, wrote to Israeli retired teacher Hanna Ehrenreich, 83, for the actions of his Nazi grandfather Wilhelm (right) who he never met
Nazi tax records confirmed that Jewish owner Benjamin Heidelberger sold his hardware store in Bad Mergentheim, southern Germany, to Wilhelm Edelmann in 1938 under Nuremburg laws
Mr Edelmann mentioned the tax records in a call to a MyHeritage salesperson, who was able to track down Mr Heidelberger 83-year-old granddaughter Hanna Ehrenreich, a retired teacher living in Israel.
The site also found Heidelberger’s 1942 naturalisation record from British Mandatory Palestine and his gravestone alongside his wife Emma in northern Israel.
Unaware that Ms Ehrenreich had a black-and-white picture of the store hanging in her home, Mr Edelmann wrote to ask her if she wanted to talk to him.
He explained that he wanted to take responsibility by ‘at least getting in touch’ after learning that his family had supported her grandparent’s injustice.
Benjamin Heidelberger (pictured together) were forced to flee Germany just weeks before Kristallnacht
Mr Edelmann said he understood if she did not want to respond but he hoped her insight could help him teach his children about the impact of historical decisions.
She agreed and they spoke on the phone in German two weeks later for 90 minutes discussing their families’ pasts.
Ms Ehrenreich told CNN: ‘It was a very good conversation. Thomas wanted to hear how we had been. I said we were happy, and we have had a good life.’
She explained how her grandparents used the money from the forced sale of their shop to flee to Palestine in 1938.
After the sale, Mr Heidelberger’s hardware store changed its name to Will Edelmann
They left Germany just weeks before Kristallnacht, the pogrom against Jews carried out by SA paramilitary forces and civilians that took place on November 9 and 10.
Her maternal grandparents tragically died in Germany after remaining in the country and she was born in Israel in 1937, she told him.
She said: ‘He was very moved and said he was so happy to hear the story from my side. He was almost crying.’
Ms Ehrenreich was close with her grandfather and he told her that Mr Edelmann’s grandfather Wilhelm ‘was a decent man and not an anti-Semite’ despite being a member of the Nazi party.
In his diaries, Mr Heidelberger wrote that Mr Edelmann warned him to flee Germany shortly before Kristallnacht.
MyHeritage found Heidelberger’s 1942 naturalisation record from British Mandatory Palestine and his gravestone alongside his wife Emma in northern Israel (pictured)
He was forced to sell the shop and warehouse for 28,500 Reichsmark, the same price he payed for it 30 years earlier and substantially less than the 40,000 Reichsmark he would have asked for in normal circumstances.
After the phone call, Mr Edelmann and Ms Ehrenreich made plans to stay in touch and he said he would visit Israel in the future.
Despite Ms Ehrenreich’s account of the sale, Mr Edelmann said he still harbours doubts about his grandfather taking advantage of the Nuremburg laws and does not believe he was a good man.
He said he hoped it would be an important lesson for his children, particularly his son Finn, 15, who started learning about Germany’s Nazi past in high school last year.
KRISTALLNACHT: THE NIGHT OF BROKEN GLASS
On November 9, 1938, the Nazis began their campaign to destroy the Jewish race.
The authorities watched on as Hitler’s SA paramilitary force and non-Jewish civilians targeted Jewish businesses and homes.
91 Jews were killed in the attacks in Germany and Austria and more than 30,000 were arrested and incarcerated in concentration camps.
Jewish homes, hospitals and schools were ransacked and more than 1,000 synagogues were burned down, while thousands of Jewish businesses were destroyed.
Historians have long pointed to the two-day campaign of terror as the start of Hitler’s Final Solution – the dictator’s comprehensive plan to exterminate the entire Jewish population in Nazi occupied Europe.
The name of the wave of violence refers to the shards of glass left strewn across cities in the aftermath of the bloody pogroms.