Fotofex Kameras – Fritz Kaftanski – HR A 73480

Due to limited resources the research project left the data of many companies unfinished in 2012. Over the years, we managed to fill many gaps. Yet, we still miss lots of information, especially about the companies that were deleted from the register in 1938.

Preparing a chapter on photographs from Berlin for my book on daily life in the Nazi capital, I found that the owner of the camera company, Felix Kaftanski, was Jewish on a fascinating – albeit outdated – website. When I looked the company up in the database, I found we only had the conformation the company was deleted from the register in October 1938 – published in the state gazette (Reichsanzeiger) on November 3rd, 1938.

Berliner Handelsregister (1931), p. 114

According to our standard procedure, the first step is to look up the company in the handbook of Berlin companies: Berliner Handelsregister. Published for the last time in 1931 by the Berlin Chamber of Industry and Commerce, it lists the basic data of all the registered companies in Berlin. For Fotofex it gives the registration Number, the year of registration (1929), address and the name of the sole owner, Fritz Kaftanski.

As we went through all changes published, but did not register any entries for the company until 1938, we can assume that the structure of the company had not changed between 1931 and 1938. What had changed, however, was the name of the street. After his untimely death, the Königgrätzer was given the name of the liberal German foreign minister Gustav Stresemann in 1930 – and was renamed Saarland-Straße – after the Saar region had opted for Germany in 1935.

Advertisement for the Minifex taken from the Website Fritz-Bedrich-Fréderic Kaftanski. History of a Camera Manufactorer: http://kaftanski.free.fr/

Kaftanskis produced respectively assembled a wide range of cameras – from simple box cameras to a very special camera called Minifex. Introduced in 1932, the Minifex was advertised as the smallest camera in the world. Despite also being one of the most expensive camera in the world, it became a long-lasting commercial success. Among others it was known as a spy camera.

Photo of a Minifex with kind permission by Boris Jamchtchick, Zell am See 2024

Under the pressure of the Nazis, Kaftanski moved first to Prague and after the German invasion to France. As his biographer Wim Luijt states, he survived in France and continued producing cameras such as the Minifex well into the 1970s.

Further reading:

Fritz-Bedrich-Fréderic Kaftanski. History of a Camera Manufactorer: http://kaftanski.free.fr/

Anne and Fritz Degginger, Fine Women’s Underwear (./. BHR)

The merchant Fritz Degginger, born in Regensburg in 1884, travelled all through Europe as a commercial agent for the high-end textile market. He was in Milan when he was taken by surprise at the news that the First World War had broken out. He travelled back to Germany through Switzerland and would receive a serious head injury while he was a soldier in Serbia. After the war, Degginger worked mainly in the women’s clothing branch, and in 1932, working alongside his wife Anne, and became independent through his shop at Kurfürstendamm 220 – a fashionable address directly opposite the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church.

Postcard, Poto of M. Krajewsky, Berlin ca. 1933, Entschädigungsbehörde Berlin, 251682

It was doubtless a coincidence that the photographer Hans Schaller happened to photograph Degginger’s business on the day of the blockade (labelled by the Nazis as a “boycott”) on businesses, doctor surgeries, and law firms regarded as Jewish. His picture shows a woman being turned away by an SA guard with a friendly smile.[1]

More than 20 years later, Fritz Degginger remembered how “3 Nazis in uniform” called on him to close his shop. After consulting the police, Degginger refused, resulting in the men returning to threaten him “with the words, that they would beat me on the head with their clubs until brain splattered the ceiling”.[2] Even though Degginger dated these events vaguely at the time after Hitler seized power, it can be assumed that they refer to the 1st of April 1933. The photo was probably taken after the return of the SA men. It can be seen how the curtains across the door are drawn and the shop within is closed. What is unclear, is whether one of the perpetrators perhaps deliberately posed as a friendly guard for the camera.

As the “situation against the Jews continued to escalate,” Fritz and Anne Degginger decided to specialise exclusively in women’s lingerie and moved a couple of doors down to the corner of Kurfürstendamm/Meineckestraße – an area which at this time would develop into a central location for institutions dealing with the emigration of Jews. The business developed very well. However, on the 10th of November 1938, the business was completely destroyed, and many wares were stolen.[3] Just like the other business owners that had been victims of the attacks, Degginger was forced to pay for the repairs to his shop himself. The Retzlaff glazing company sent him a bill of 485 RM on the 19th of November 1938 for changing the windowpanes. It is common knowledge that Jewish retailers were not allowed to reopen their shops after the pogrom. The remaining stock was sold off without the cooperation of the Deggingers, and the shop was rented out to somebody else.

Bill for the replacement of broken windowpanes, 19th of November 1938, Entschädigungsbehörde Berlin, 251682

In the weeks after the pogrom, Fritz and his son Roy Degginger were forced to go into hiding to avoid being transported to Sachsenhausen concentration camp. In May 1939, the family succeeded in fleeing across the green border to Belgium. Finally, after months of waiting, they were able to emigrate from Antwerp to the USA at the end of 1939. Why the company was not entered into the commercial register, despite having a yearly turnover amounting to more than 250,000 RM remains unknown.

Mert Akyuez & Christoph Kreutzmüller – with warm thanks to the family of Anne and Fritz Degginger!


[1] Photo by Hans Schaller, 1st of April 1933, bpk 30005414.

[2] Solemn oath by Fritz Degginger, 22nd of December 1954; CV of ritz Degginger, 1st of December 1954, Resititution Office of Berlin, 251682.

[3] Ibid.


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