A German man whose grandfather acquired a Jewish family’s store on the cheap due to the Nazis’ antisemitic policies has located the family’s descendent in Israel and apologized, CNN reported over the weekend.
Thomas Edelmann, 49, was aware that his grandfather Wilhelm acquired a hardware store from a Jewish man named Benjamin Heidelberger in 1938 after the Nazis enacted the discriminatory Nuremburg Laws, allowing Jewish property to be easily acquired by non-Jews at usurious prices.
After telling this to a representative of the genealogy site MyHeritage, the site confirmed the story and told Edelmann that Heidelberger’s granddaughter Hanna Ehrenreich, 83, is alive and well and living in Israel, where her grandfather fled from Nazi persecution.
Edelmann wrote to Hanna, saying, “I believe that if my family supported the injustice your grandparents experienced, it is our duty to take this into account and take over responsibility at least in getting in touch with you to listen and learn. As I am part of the Edelmann family I want to take the first step and listen to you.”
He said that he had hoped Ehrenreich would respond as it would help him teach his children about the lessons of the Nazi era.
“There is a new antisemitism upcoming,” Edelmann wrote to Ehrenreich. “I want to make sure that at least my family will never again be responsible for injustice experienced by others, but stand up to take part for the weak.”
Ehrenreich responded to Edelmann, and they spoke via phone about their families’ fraught history.
“It was a very good conversation,” Ehrenreich said. “Thomas wanted to hear how we had been. I said we were happy, and we have had a good life.”
She also noted that her grandfather remembered Edelmann’s father as “a decent man and not an antisemite.”
Heidelberger had in fact written in his diary, “One day, Edelmann came to me and said I should leave Germany as quickly as possible. There were plans in place to act against Jews and he felt obliged to warn me, his good acquaintance.”
“I knew Edelmann was indeed the person who bought the shop,” Ehrenreich said. “I understood that he was a good man, although he was a member of the Nazi party.”
Thomas Edelmann is less sanguine about his grandfather’s memory, saying, “When he was a student during the 1920s he was already a member of the Nazi party, which was before Hitler came to power. So, I don’t believe he was such a good man, I’m not 100% convinced. I doubt he didn’t take advantage of the situation.”
However, Edelmann believes that the story can help him teach his teenage son, saying, “I want him to understand what history is, and what history means.”
“Although he doesn’t have anything to do with this story, it’s our ancestor who has impacted the lives of a whole family who had a life in this country,” he said. “I want him to learn and understand that whatever decisions he makes have an impact on someone else’s life.”
Ehrenreich, whose maternal grandparents could not escape Germany and were murdered by the Nazis, feels Edelmann heard and understood her story, saying, “He was very moved and said he was so happy to hear the story from my side — he was almost crying.”