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 One important aspect of this focus, aside from rescuing data from an outdated offline platform, is to ensure that the future database should be widely accessible by being hosted online.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 These offline copies are hardly ever used – and become more and more outdated as information cannot be easily transferred between the database and researchers and institutions interested in sharing their sources and materials.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 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.

Max Kann – Shoes

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

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

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