Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and it is appropriate to share a Jewish victory against the Nazis – though long in coming – for all to relish.
Dina Gold’s book, Stolen Legacy (Ankerwycke 2015), is a rare Holocaust story. Her family tale combines all the drama and heart-pounding fear of Jews on the run, of Jewish families scattered throughout the world, of loss and, remarkably, of final vindication.
Gold’s story is unique in being a true detective novel and a document-driven courtroom drama, set in the heart of the Nazi Empire.
It is the story of a six-year battle for a building confiscated from a German Jewish family, which ultimately led to a multi-million dollar settlement for the ancestors of the Wolff family.
Like so many prominent German Jewish families, the Wolffs, Berliners, were highly assimilated. While they owned “seats” at a local synagogue where the grownups went once or twice a year, in their home they had Christmas trees and the children and many family servants delighted in opening their presents every Christmas morning.
While things went well for Germany, Gold’s maternal ancestors owned one of the largest and most profitable fur businesses in Germany. Her great-great-grandfather, Heimann Wolff, owned one of the largest buildings in Berlin and his fur business spread from Europe to the Americas, with offices in East Berlin, London, Manchester and Glasgow.
Gold’s grandmother grew up in the kind of luxury few can imagine – a magnificent estate and an enormous and glamorous family fur business.
By the 1930’s all of Germany, including the Wolff family fur business, was in decline. The Wolff company’s board decided to rent out office space in their huge building to other companies. The rental receipts helped to stave off the financial concerns of an empire built for those with expensive tastes, during leaner times.
Although most of her family escaped Nazi Germany, the business remained and was managed by lawyers who were ultimately forced by the rapacious Victoria Insurance Company to attempt to repay a mortgage despite never having been late on a payment.
That building, 17/18 Krausenstrasse, was foreclosed on by the Victoria Insurance Company. The family was gouged by the increasingly invasive laws against selling or renting to or buying from Jews, and the foreclosure took place despite desperate measures, including selling off bits and eventually huge chunks of the entire family’s suburban estate to try and keep the building in the family’s hands.
The Victoria turned around – was it planned together? – and sold it to the Reichsbahn, the German Railway Ministry. Yes, the train system that delivered millions of Europeans, including Gold’s great-uncle, to their deaths in the Nazi concentration camps.
Gold remembered while growing up in England, hearing magical tales from her grandmother Nellie about the two city-blocks long building owned by the Wolff family in Berlin.
The Wolff building was the centerpiece of the Wolff family business and of Gold’s story. But there are other points of interest along the way that will ground readers in the monstrosity of the times.
Her family’s estate, in Wannsee, was just a few minutes walk from the famous site of the Wannsee conference, where the Nazis’ Final Solution to the “Jewish problem” was formulated on Jan. 20, 1942.