Jacob Gesang / C. Boas Nachfolger Publishing House

Jacob 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. As his wife Erna (1893-1977), Gesang was not Berlin-born. He originated from Kalisz, a city that had an old and flourishing Jewish minority. It is possible that his family was expelled by the Russian authorities as German Jews. Whatever the case, Gesang came to Berlin at the turn of the century.

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

Jacob 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 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. However, Jacob Gesang continued business on a small scale until November 1938, when his shop was vandalized in the pogrom. A short time later Gesang was ordered to hand in what remained of his store’s collection to the Jüdischen Kulturbund. Sixteen books that were sold by Gesang can be found among the records of the Looted Cultural Assets” database.

Foreigners’ Residence Certificate, 6th of December 1943, in: Entschädigungsbehörde Berlin 56702

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. Initially Erna and Jacob Gesang ran a Jewish bookshop at Nr. 50–26 Ward Road[3] and took an active part in the Jewish community.[4] Of the eight years Erna and Jacob Gesang lived in Shanghai, they were forced to spend at least two in the Ghetto controlled by Japanese forces.

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, struggling with money and health issues. Having applied in 1952, the widow only received compensation from Germany in 1965.

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.










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