The beginning of the end of German Jewry


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9 December 1933

Letter from Hugo Heymann to Julius Sternberg requesting information about his ancestors

The lawyer Dr. Hugo Heymann wrote this letter after receiving a "strictly confidential" tip that a new law concerning Jews was being drafted. According to Heymann, the law would place him in a "favored" category on the condition that he could prove his ancestors had settled in Germany prior to 1800. Since Heymann himself was unable to trace his family tree back that far, he asked Julius Sternberg (1879–1971) for advice and assistance.

Sternberg managed the respected M. K. Sternberg department store in the old center of the Spandau section of Berlin and was the head of the local Jewish community there. But this was not the sole reason Heymann wrote to him. Sternberg was a lover of history who had commissioned a genealogist to research his own family background. The "refreshment hall" in his department store was decorated with historical paintings recounting the history of Spandau. In addition, Heymann‘s grandmother was a Sternberg by birth and the two men had roots in the former Prussian city of Czarnikau, now in Poland. As a result, Heymann was justified in hoping that Sternberg would be able to provide him with information about his ancestors.

What is less understandable is Heymann‘s belief that he would be able to escape the Nazis‘ racist policies if he proved that his family history had unfolded on "German soil" as early as the eighteenth century. In fact, although he had heard rumors about the law from "reliable sources," such legislation was never adopted. In the Nazis‘ eyes, affiliation with Judaism was based on descent—"on blood." Even if Heymann had been able to show that his ancestors had had roots in Germany going back for generations, this information would not have protected him from persecution.

Hugo Heymann died on 24 November 1939 at the age of sixty-eight and was buried in the Jewish cemetery in Weissensee. His wife, Susette, born in 1874, did not survive the Nazi period. She was deported to Theresienstadt in March 1943 and from there to Auschwitz in May 1944.

Monika Flores Martinez

Categorie(s): Berlin | businessmen | religious life
Letter from Hugo Heymann to Julius Sternberg requesting information about his ancestors, Berlin, 9 December 1933
Gift of Hans Sternberg

For generations

In the mid-1920s Julius Sternberg expanded the fabric shop in Spandau established by his grandfather into a modern department store. With more than ten thousand square feet of retail space and over one hundred employees, the shop became a leading outlet for clothing, fabrics and home textiles. To mark the re-opening of the store in 1927, Sternberg published a beautifully designed memorial volume for his regular customers entitled Bilder und Betrachtungen aus Spandaus Vergangenheit (Pictures and Observations from Spandau‘s Past). Today this publication is a coveted collector‘s item.

The M.K. Sternberg department store lit up at night, photographer unknown, Spandau district of Berlin, after 1927
Gift of Hans Sternberg