Jakob Gesang / C. Boas Nachfolger

Jakob Gesang (1887–1960) was the owner of a bookstore and publishing house which had been founded in 1863 and entered into the commercial register in 1911. Gesang was not Berlin-born, he and his wife Erna (1893–1977) originated from Kalisz, a city that had an old and flourishing Jewish minority. It is possible that as German Jews the pair were expelled by the Russian authorities. Whatever the case, they came to Berlin at the turn of the century.

“Die Weltanschauung des Judentums” (“The Jewish Worldview”) by Ludwig Pick

Jakob Gesang’s bookshop was located in the old city centre at Neue Friedrich-straße 69, a street which was parallel to the urban railway viaduct that ran between Museumsinsel (Museum Island) and the Waisenbrücke (Waisen Bridge). The business, near the old Synagogue in Heiderreutergasse and facing the central market hall, shared the building with Carl Engel’s Knabenkleidungshandlung (boys’ clothing store), also listed in our database.

In the catalogue of the German National Library, there are eight entries for books printed by Gesang’s publishing house C. Boas Nachf. The titles of these works were exclusively aimed at Jewish readers, such as Ludwig Pick’s “Die Weltanschauung des Judentums” (“The Jewish Worldview”). The last book in the index was Frieda Mehle’s “Unser Lichtefest” (“Our Festival of Light”) which appeared in 1930. Evidently, Gesang’s Jewish identity was an important element of his professional life.

Address Book of German Booksellers 1935 (97th ed.), in: Memorial and Educational Site of the House of the Wannsee-Conference, Berlin

Even before the time when it was compulsory for Jewish businesses to declare themselves as such, an unknown bookseller neatly marked those merchants known by them to be Jewish with a red “J” – and Gesang’s bookshop was among them. Shortly after this hasty branding, most of these Jewish book traders were excluded from the Reich’s chamber for literature (Reichsschrifttumskammer) and were, therefore, de facto banned from their profession. Only in exceptional cases, and only for businesses operating under an explicitly Jewish company name, could a handful of publishing houses and booksellers continue their trade for a while longer.[1] Gesang’s book shop was included in this group. At the beginning of December 1936, the Jewish periodical “Jüdische Rundschau” wrote that the business would be celebrating its 25th anniversary.[2]

On the 30th of May 1938, the bookshop was deleted from the commercial register, the fate of the store’s collection, whether it was flogged or robbed, is unknown. A prayer book from the New Synagogue that was sold by the book shop can be found among the records of the “Looted Cultural Assets” database.

A short while later, Mr and Mrs Gesang fled the country to one of the last open safe havens – Shanghai, a city that would become a place of refuge for around 15,000 European Jews. Erna and Jacob Gesang lived there for eight years, during which time, Jacob ran a Jewish bookshop at Nr. 50–26 Ward Road[3] and took an active part in the Jewish community.[4]

After the end of the Second World War, and once news of the scale of the Holocaust reached Shanghai, the couple decided not to return to Germany. Instead, they emigrated to Australia. Jacob and Erna Gesang arrived in Sidney on the 31st of January 1947; their finances were so limited at the time that the United Jewish Overseas Relief Fund had to advance the money for the ship journey from Shanghai to Sidney, as well as for the train tickets to Melbourne. The couple lived in this city until Jacob Gesang’s death in 1960. In the last years of his life, the Jewish book merchant had worked as the head of the Kashrut Department of the Melbourne Beth Din.[5]

He never practised his trade again.


By Flavia Citrigno & Christoph Kreutzmüller

Translated by Bethan Griffiths


[1] Volker Dahm, Das jüdische Buch im Dritten Reich, Bd. 1, Die Ausschaltung der jüdischen Autoren, Verleger und Buchhändler, Frankfurt am Main 1979, pp. 99–108.

[2] “Firmenjubiläum“, in: Jüdische Rundschau, 4.12.1936.

[3] Shanghai Echo, 17.5.1946, p. 4.

[4] The Australian Jewish News, 1.3.1957, p. 15.

[5] “Obituary Mr. Jacob Gesang”, in: The Australian Jewish News, 9.12.1960.










From Old to New

The main focus of the Database of Jewish-Owned Businesses in Nazi Berlin project focuses on the redesign and enhancement of a current offline version to an international audience in education and research. One important aspect of this focus, aside from rescuing data from an outdated offline platform, is to ensure that the future database should be widely accessible by being hosted online.

As a tool to overcome the parlous state of the files, the database served to collate the scattered information and render it statistically manageable. Its design was based on the premise that all Jewish businesses underwent considerable changes against the backdrop of persecution after 1933. Hence, all kind of changes, not only their names, legal form, address, owners, shareholders, and managers, of more than 50,000 companies were stored in the current state of the database enhanced by informations regarding source materials and research literature. Of these, 8,000 companies were identified as having Jewish owners. In his study, “Final Sale in Berlin. The destruction of Jewish commercial activity 1930-1945” the project coordinator Christoph Kreutzmüller estimates that his team managed to identify 60 percent of all the businesses that were Jewish-owned.

Anticipating the growing public and research interests, the full offline version of the database was made available to many research departments and memorial organisations (e.g. the New Synagogue Berlin—Centrum Judaicum Foundation, the Berlin State Archive, Yad Vashem, the Leo Baeck Institute, New York and the Wiener Library). These offline copies are hardly ever used – and become more and more outdated as information cannot be easily transferred between the database and researchers and institutions interested in sharing their sources and materials. Furthermore, the offline technology is not suitable for disseminating and cross-linking the database contents with any kind of information in the World Wide Web.

Therefore, a small excerpt of the database with reduced information on the companies identified as Jewish was published online at http://www2.hu-berlin.de/djgb/www/find. This website continues to attract intense public attention. When this abridged online database was offline due to software maintenance in early December 2018 – the author of the study received up to three complaints a day. This confirmed the initial anticipation that the data contained within the old, offline database was widely sought after, and that the move to make this data accessible online was of real value and interest to both the research community and to the general public.

The project team will carry out the development of a research tool for source materials and literature for both traditional analogue research and the digital humanities in the area of Jewish history. Based on current technological and archival standards the current offline database solution (Microsoft access database, created in 2006 for a small research team) will be migrated into an accessible network version. The new database will be open for editor teams to inject new materials as well as to enhance and connect these materials with other online databases (sources, literature, encyclopedias etc.) through linked open data technologies.

An important element of the transformation and migration of the database includes the possibility to interlink with other factual references or collection of sources. Therefore, a complete rethink of function and design will be necessary. The idea behind a reorganized database structure with SQL- and NO-SQL-technologies (Not-Only-SQL) is to open the database for any kind of materials. The core structure of the new online database will contain relevant metadata based on SQL-technologies, but by using No-SQL-Technology it will be possible to enhance the database with any new kind of materials regardless of its structure. The planned data-sharing and linking of data (Linked open data) will be supported by the same technical processes and operations like the web-interface on the REST-API, and also for text- and data-mining tools.

The new database will be opened for new editors collecting their materials and will enable the raw data to be enhanced by other relevant materials, such as images or supplementary texts. At the same time, this data will be available to different research and memorial organizations through the new web-interface. It is our plan to invite all the institutions that already have a copy of our Database (Leo Baeck Institute, Berlin State Archive, New Synagogue Berlin—Centrum Judaicum Foundation, Wiener Library and Yad Vashem to add information they have found to our database. Preliminary talks with the Berlin State Archive and the Wiener Library have shown a great interest in the new database.

A new interdisciplinary team will therefore work together to ensure that the research conducted between 2006 and 2011 will not only be saved from the almost total oblivion that would have resulted in being locked in an outdated, offline, inaccessible database, but also that this research can be actively used and expanded. New information will be added and a new presentation of the database contents will attempt to further increase the accessibility and impact of the data. The interlinkage to related projects will not only improve our understanding of this incredibly important topic of disspossession and persecution, but will also actively participate in the development of a global and digital research community – working together to learn and inform.

Miniature – Stefi Gollop Artificial Flowers

Letterhead for Stefi Gollop’s artificial flower business dated 25.8.1936, LAB A Rep 342-02, Nr. 35322

‘Stefi Gollop, künstliche Blumen und andere Modeartikel’

We don not know a lot about Stefi Gollop. But what we do know is worth telling:

Stefi Gollop was born on the 25th of November 1911 in Charlottenburg – then a prosperous city near Berlin. Her father Theodor owned a clothing shop at number 2 on the Hausvogteiplatz in Berlin – a hotspot for the fashion industry. The family recognized the potential for danger of the Nazis and send the youngest son, Herbert, to Sweden in 1933. Stefi and her parents remained in Berlin. On the 15th of February 1936, despite resistance from the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Stefi managed to open her own shop, selling artificial flowers and other fashion items, at Motzstr. 81. The shop soon moved location to Krausenstr. 15, less than a ten minute walk away from her father’s store.

However, Theodor Gollop was forced to give up his textile company he had set up in 1919 in 1937 and went to work for his daughter. Despite the increasingly harsh conditions imposed on Jewish businesses, Stefi’s business did well initially, making 18,500 Reichsmarks in the first three months of 1937. The business would survive until 1939 when, as a direct result of the Nazi anti-Semitic measures after the pogroms, Stefi’s business ground to a halt. Later that year, by the time of the popular census on the 17th of May, the family had moved to Grolmannstr. 51. On November 17 1941 the Gollop family were deported to the Kaunas ghetto in German occupied Lithuania along with more then 1003 other Jews from Berlin. Everybody was murdered three days after their arrival on November 25, 1941. The date of her death was Stefi’s 30th birthday.

Bethan Griffiths

Miniature – the ‘Max Kann’ shoe shop

Photograph of Martin, Martha and Marion Kann near Alexanderplatz, undated – photograph in private ownership

BHR – A 18623 / A 92023

The ‘Max Kann’ shoe shop, founded by Max Kann in 1874, was located at Neue Friedrich Street 48 (today’s Anna-Louise-Karsch Street), Berlin. It was well situated in the heart of town and was close to both the Hackescher Market and the stock exchange.  In 1903, following nearly 30 years of successful business, the company was entered into the new founded commercial register. 

When Max Kann died twenty years later, on the 19th of September 1923, his wife, Ernestine Kann, née Brinitzer, became the sole heir. Soon after, their son Martin took over the business. The Berlin Commercial Register of 1930 names Martin Kann as the only owner of the company, a state of affairs that would officially remain until the 27th of March 1945, despite Martin Kann’s death years earlier in 1942!

Martin Kann died at the age of 54 on the 16th of October 1942. According to a distant relative the cause of death was “heart failure due to the Holocaust.” He had become blind and his health had deteriorated significantly after the Nazi seizure of power – constant threats and pressure. Martin Kann’s wife Martha, and daughter Marion, were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau one month later on 29th of November 1942. 

According to a file at the Brandenburg State Archive, both Martha and Marion Kann’s assets, which they had been forced to declare before their deportation, were seized by the state in an ordinance (Verfügung) dated 27th of November 1942. On the 14th of January 1943 the Dresdner Bank emptied Max and Martha Kann’s “special account” (Sonder-Konto “W”) containing 912.81 RM to the Oberfinanzpräsidenten (Chief Finance President) of Brandenburg. However, the state was told by the Dresdner Bank on the 20th of August 1943 that the transferal of the sum of 955 RM belonging to the ‘Max Kann’ company could only approved upon the Oberfinanzpräsident’s proof that Martha Kann had been the sole heir to the company’s assets. This confirmation was provided in a handwritten letter on the 10th of September 1943, stating that Marion was the next heir after her mother, Martha, but as they were deported (“abgeschoben“) at the same time there were no other inheritors. Shortly afterwards, on the 15th of October 1943, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry for Berlin began the proceedings to delete the ‘Max Kann’ company from the commercial register due to its ‘cessation of operation’. This was no easy task, as official bureaucratic procedure was complicated by the fact that Martha’s deportation had made any correspondence regarding the liquidation impossible. The district court and police spent seven months attempting to confirm the whereabouts of the owner of the business. A letter from the captain of the police (Schutzpolizei) dated 3rd of May 1944 that “Jew Martin Kann” had died in 1942, and that the heirs to the company been “transported to the East.” With this confirmation in writing the path was clear to delete the business. A letter dated 9th of August 1944 declared that the ‘Max Kann’ company should be removed from the commercial register. This occurred on the 27th of March 1945, as the Red Army was nearing the capital, making it one of the very last Jewish businesses to be liquidated in Nazi Germany.

Their eldest daughter, Ellen, had already left Berlin with her husband, Manfred Issermann, fleeing first to England and then to the USA. She remained there until her death in 2013, aged 94. Her kin gave us the photograph we show here. We woulkd like to thank them for the trust they put in us!

Sophie Eckenstaler and Bethan Griffiths

Jewish Owned Businesses in Nazi Berlin — an introduction

After five years of work, the data collected by the research team shows that in 1933 some 7,000 businesses registered in the commercial register were identified as Jewish — i. e. owned or run by businesspeople that were Jewish and/or that were persecuted as being Jewish.

Samples gave evidence that only two-thirds of all the businesses were actually identified. Therefore, we can assume that there were around 10,000 Jewish owned businesses in Berlin in the Handelsregister. However, since the majority of commercial enterprises were not listed in the register, the figure of 10,000 does not reflect the total number. A study by the Berlin Statistical Office in 1933 put the total of nonagricultural commercial establishments at 275,000, suggesting that less than one-sixth of all commercial enterprises were registered. Yet, even if we assume that every fifth Jewish business was officially registered, that still leaves around 50,000 Jewish owned companies in the German capital in 1933.

Avraham Barkai (s. A.) estimated that in 1933 there were around one hundred thousand Jewish businesses in Germany. If that is correct, it would mean around half of alls Jewish owned businesses were in Berlin.

However, the large number of businesses in the capital should not necessarily be interpreted as a sign of economic strength or dominance but as a symptom of economic desperation. The steep increase in the number of small sole-proprietor businesses was, on the one hand, a result of the Great Depression and, on the other, of anti-Semitic ostracization, attacks, and pickets elsewhere. Nevertheless, there was also a wealth of first-rate mid-sized companies that had been in the Berlin commercial register for decades and had played a formative role in the city’s economic development. While there was an especially strong Jewish presence in traditional economic sectors such as textiles and clothing, leather and shoemaking, tobacco, and banks and insurance companies, Jewish business owners could in fact be found in every sector. Although attacks on Jews and their businesses were nothing new, the destruction of Jewish business began to take a systematic and sinister turn in 1933. Bureaucratic and violent antisemitic measures went hand in hand, to search, mark and destroy.

The entries of the database show that Jewish business people managed to fend off the attacks for a remarkably long time. This was due to four factors:

Firstly, Jewish economic assistance institutions had been established in Berlin as early as the 1920s. Based on its experience, the Jewish community was able to react rapidly to the changing circumstances and, in March 1933, founded the Central Office for Jewish Economic Assistance, which served as a blueprint for similar organizations all over Germany. The economic assistance services of the Jewish community and the Reich Association of Jews in Germany were supported by numerous petitions submitted by the likes of the Central Association for German Citizens of the Jewish Faith. These petitions were somewhat successful up until 1935.

Secondly, the city itself afforded Jewish businesspeople some scope to assert themselves in ways that proved effective for individuals. The result was a plethora of complaints and petitions to courts and authorities. With almost a quarter of Jews in Berlin not holding German citizenship, those affected by persecution were well placed to enlist consular support because the Reich capital was home to all embassies and diplomatic representations. Changes to business and legal form were undertaken in order to avert anti-Semitic attacks, blockades and embargos. Structural adjustment through the appointment of non-Jewish partners — partly with rules of succession in mind — were also common. What’s more, although most businesses did not aim to completely reposition themselves, almost all of them adapted the range of their services and products to the changing circumstances. Some businesses sought to boost their overseas ties and bolster their exports in order to obtain foreign currency. Since foreign currency was in short supply, these businesses remained relatively protected until late 1938.

Thirdly, the relatively constant support of non-Jewish customers until 1938, especially in the inner-city highstreets, also helped Jewish businesses remain afloat. Bystanders were potential customers and their behaviour could ultimately make or break a Jewish business. Even window shopping amounted to a statement of inclusion or exclusion within the so-called “Volksgemeinschaft”, a heavily- propagated “people’s community”, that was defined along racist lines.

The fact that the international press was concentrated in the German capital served as a fourth factor protecting Jewish businesses—as long as the Nazi regime needed relatively stable trade relations and cared about the world’s opinion. Given the many opportunities it offered to make a living, the German capital — seen as the heart of darkness from afar — served as a haven of refuge for Jewish businesspeople with some one thousand new Jewish businesses entered in the commercial register between 1933 and 1938. The consequences of persecution in rural areas could be felt in almost all major cities with sizeable Jewish populations. The trend had begun to subside in Breslau (Wrocław) and Frankfurt by the mid-1930s, but Berlin remained a major destination as a place of refuge, even absorbing businesses from other large cities after 1935/36.

The Nazi authorities responded with extreme violence to the fact that Jewish businesspeople fought back against the destruction of their livelihoods. Because the number of Jewish-owned businesses had hardly shrunk in his city, Goebbels (Gauleiter for Berlin) pushed for a violent “solution” in 1938. In this respect the pogrom — still often referred to as “Kristallnacht” — is cynically connected to the success Jewish business people had in asserting themselves against the ongoing process of destruction of their livelihoods. Evidence shows that the police and Gestapo had great difficulty in putting a stop to pillaging in Berlin and that, despite the November Pogrom having started on the 9th, it was still continuing on 12 November 1938 — the day, the consequences of the devastation were discussed in the Ministry of Aviation. The promise of spoils was most certainly a determining factor in the extraordinary aggression displayed by members of the public against their Jewish neighbours — including many who previously had no hand in the destruction of Jewish commercial activity. Against this backdrop, Berlin’s Gau economic adviser developed an accelerated procedure for transferring possession of Jewish businesses in mid-November 1938, leading some to argue that the culmination of the destruction of Jewish commercial activity actually occurred after the pogrom.

Despite the havoc wreaked and the extensive bans, Jewish business evidently continued to operate in Berlin even after 1939. Its destruction in the Reich capital lasted well into the Second World War and overlapped with the genocide. Because the Holocaust was based on division of labor and involved bureaucracy, it is also reflected in the commercial register files. This makes tragically clear that the destruction of Jews’ economic existence — as Raul Hilberg concluded more than fifty years ago — was an integral part of the process of their persecution and murder.

Christoph Kreutzmüller

Edited and abridged by Bethan Griffiths

Contextualising Data: Case Studies

A database is an incredible tool – a digital space whose sole purpose is to organize huge amounts of information. That information can be made accessible, or it can simply be kept in its recepticle for safe keeping. However, as its name makes quite clear, a database deals with ‘data’. It is not space for the presentation of the data’s meaning. Storing data, the stories behind the data often are lost. Without contextualisation, the potential for data remains unlocked.

But how do you make the stories the data tell accessible on a technological platformfor those outside specific research groups? How can we prepare the data in a way which ‘breathes life’ back into the digits and equasions?

We decided to try to open the data up by writing ‘Miniaturen’ – short “biographies” of companies and the people involved in it. Of course, theses case studies cannot possibly do justice to the complexity of development that comes with any enterprise, let alone a life. However, the ‘Miniaturen’ aim to shine a light on something or someone that no longer exists, with the hope that this light helps create some sort of shadow of that which was systematically and aggressively destroyed by the Nazi Regime. At times the miniatures are “special” cases that caught our eyes; but quite often we were asked about a company by the families of their owners who then provided us with extra material such as photographs.

The database is a research tool, but research in itself stems from many motivations. In our case, where the data relates to persecution and murder, the motivation to research is rooted in the need to understand the intricate relation between violence and bureaucracy, and how segregation worked in economy – and in city space. Another important motivation, and one often expressed by descendants of the affected, is to create a face and a space for those who the perpetrator (in this case the Nazi state) tried to erase.

It is unfortunately impossible for our small research team to create these ‘miniatures’ for every affected person and business in the database, but by creating as many as possible we hope that not only will these lives be given face and space, but also that other researchers will be able to use the database as a tool to shine a light on the many other Jewish businesses in Berlin which suffered the consequences of National Socialist antisemitism.

Bethan Griffiths

A Word on the New Project

Compiled by a team of ten at the Humboldt University in Berlin in the years 2006 to 2011, the database was originally set up as the core of a research project on Jewish owned businesses in Berlin between 1930 and 1945. As a intermediary report the team set up the the exhibition “Verraten und Verkauft”, shown amongst other places in the Leo Back Insitute in New York and the Hebrew University in Jeruslem with the help of the Aktive Museum, Berlin. When team leader, Christoph Kreutzmüller, had concluded the project with the acclaimed study “Ausverkauf. Die Vernichtung der jüdischen Gewerbetätigkeit in Berlin 1930-1945” (“Final Sale in Berlin. The destruction of Jewish commercial activity”), an extract of the database was published online in 2012. Full copies were made available in the reading rooms of the Landesarchiv Berlin, Leo Baeck Intitute New York, Yad Vashem Jerusalem and Wiener Library, London. 

The database has since become an important research tool for family research as well as economic and social history.

screenshot of the original database

Still, the database had an increasingly outdated and unstable basis. Funded by the ROTHSCHILD FOUNDATION HANADIV EUROPE Foundation it was our primary goal to save the data, capture and publish not just an extract but all the existing information in a web-based format and a more accessible design. We also aimed to enrich the database by adding more information (and more identifications). To add density to the data, we also conducted deeper research into a few dozen companies of the database – and wrote short biographies of them.

In so doing, the database will become a central access point to the widely scattered sources and materials of the history of Jewish businesses in Berlin – with emphasis on the years of Nazi persecution. It will be open for new content, identifications, and links.

We hope the new database will then be a tool for evaluating current technologies for developing databases to access scattered sources.

The new database of Jewish businesses in Berlin will go online later this year!

Christoph Kreutzmüller

Database of Jewish-Owned Businesses in Nazi Berlin

This is the blog of the Database of Jewish Businesses in Nazi Berlin. The database was set up between 2005 and 2012 as part of a research project at the Humboldt University in Berlin. It is the basis of both the study “Final Sale in Berlin. The destruction of Jewish commercial activity 1930-1945“ and the exhibition “Final Sale. The end of Jewish owned businesses in Nazi Berlin”. The foundation of the database is a complete indexing of all relevant entries of the Berlin commercial register, published in the German state gazette, the “Deutsche Reichsanzeiger und Preußischen Staatsanzeiger”. It includes information collected from many different primary sources, contemporary newspapers, handbooks and directories and other printed material. The database contains key information on more then 8 000 companies that were regarded as Jewish and therefore persecuted from 1933 on. This includes the name of the company, its address, legal form, economic sector, the date of the entry of a company into the commercial register, the date of its deletion, changes of the owners or managers and all references. The database also holds the raw data of another 44 000 companies that could not be identified as Jewish.

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