Ilia Hepner, the Luna Park Grundstücks-Aktiengesellschaft, HRB 23654 and the Lunaterrassen Betriebsgesellschaft mbH, HRB 25015

As one of the many refugees of the Russian Civil war businessman Ilia Hepner, born in Bialystok, came to Berlin in the summer of 1921. Obviously, Hepner had not arrived in the German capital without means. Soon after having bought several apartment buildings, an even larger investment opportunity presented itself when the “Lunapark” came up for sale in March 1922. This amusement park stretched from the end of Berlin’s fashionable Kurfürstendamm to Halensee and was considered one of the largest in Europe.[1]

Entry „Lunaterrassen Betriebsgesellschaft m.b.H“ into the commercial register. Sept. 5, 1926, State Archive Berlin, A Rep 342-0, 59995

Luna Park-Grundstücks AG” was founded to acquire the fairground, followed three months later by Lunaterrassen Betriebsgesellschaft mbH Kommanditgesellschaft, which was fully absorbed into the AG later. From March 1925, Ilia Hepner was the sole director and shareholder of both companies.[2] Under Hepner’s management, the amusement park experienced a second heyday. In addition to new rides and a wave pool that was unique at the time, high-priced raffles, beauty contests and competitions attracted crowds. In 1929, the park celebrated its 25th anniversary with a large programme.[3] By that time, the Lunapark employed some 1,500 staff from spring to autumn.

Photo by an unknown photographer, 1926 Entrance to the Lunapark, State Archive Berlin, F Rep. 290 Nr. II920

In January 1933, Ilia Hepner became seriously ill and was no longer able to run his business. His brother Paul (1872-1937), an authorised signatory for both companies since 1924, was supposed to stand in for him, but was prevented from doing so by members of the Nazi Party. They denied him access to the park, physically attacked and even imprisoned him for some days.[4] When Ilia Hepner died and was buried on the Jewish cemetery in Berlin Weißensee, he had not left a will.[5] Ten relatives scattered across several countries were his heirs. One of them, his brother Joel Hepner (1872-1938), who lived in Berlin, still campaigned for the preservation of the company, but was so threatened that he left Germany in the same month. At the – possibly forced – request of Paul Hepner, the district court appointed a guardian of the estate, which also officially took the business completely out of the hands of the family.[6]

“From Luna- to National Park”, Berliner Morgenpost, December 29, 1933, Beilage, Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz Berlin

The National Socialists had been interested in taking over the Luna Park for some time. At a meeting of the NSDAP on 4 July 1933 in the Wilmersdorf town hall, a party comrade presented a project for the “change of ownership and reorganisation of the Luna Park”. As the Berliner Morgenpost reported the Lunapark was to be redesigned as a “national park” by Albert Speer with “Aryan” [i.e. not-Jewish] shareholders. All Jewish employees and members of the Supervisory Board of Luna Park AG were dismissed. In October 1933, the new Management Board initiated bankruptcy proceedings. This was relatively easy to accomplish, as the properties were heavily encumbered with mortgages, interest was due and debts had accumulated. Shortly before the end of the year, the sale to Nationalpark AG was finalised. Although the reopening planned for May 1934 was widely publicised in the local press, the plans had to be completely abandoned – for a projected road leading to the site of the Olympic Stadium.[7] By that time, Albert Speer had already pocketed his fee of 42,000 RM.[8]

By Jutta Fischer

For more information:, s.v. Ilja, Paul und Daniel Hepner; Familie Jules Hepner

[1] Zum Lunapark: Ingrid Heinrich-Jost, Wer will noch mal ? Wer hat noch nicht? Aus der Geschichte der Berliner Rummelplätze, Berlin 1985, pp. 67-80; Johanna Niedbalski, Die ganze Welt des Vergnügens. Berliner Vergnügungsparks der 1880er bis 1930er Jahre, Berlin 2018, especially pp. 133-147.

[2] Ruling, July 10 1924, HRB 23654, Federal Archive Berlin (BArch), R 8127/7213; Ruling March 7, 1925, State Archive Berlin (LAB), LAB A Rep. 342-02, 49594.

[3] Der Lunapark im Jubiläumsjahr 1929, Berlin 1929.

[4] Sworn statements by various family members, in: LAB B Rep. 025-01,415/51; sworn statement by Alfred Scharff, 1965, in: LAB B Rep. 025-08, 5714/59.

[5] Gravestone in the Jewish Cemetery  Berlin-Weißensee, field F 7, row 21.

[6] Letter from the lawyers Dr. M. Zeller and Dr. H. Lorch, March 24,1933, LAB A Rep. 342, 16673.

[7] Meeting, July 4, 1933, LAB A Pr Br Rep. 057, 417, 3.

[8] Letter by the district mayor of Wilmersdorf, April 14, 1935, LAB A Pr Br Rep. 057, 417,3.

The Sevilla Dance Palace – Arthur Lefebre

Logo of The Sevilla Dance Palace

At Christmas time in 1927 the “most elegant amusement establishment of the South” opened its doors at Oranienstraße 68, near the Moritzplatz. Arthur Lefebre, born in 1899, was the owner of the Sevilla, while his father, Wilhelm, owned the building.[1] Initially, the dance hall was booming, with up to 400 guests at a time being catered for by bar staff and cooks and being entertained by the house band. As a result of the economic crisis, however, revenue began to sink. What’s more, the business was attacked by brown-shirted Nazi “Storm Troopers” (SA).

In April 1932, Lefebre felt forced, for the time being, to shelve the business. He hoped that “the excesses of the SA and the discrimination of the Nazi regime would prove to be temporary.”[2] When the situation did not improve, Lefebre initially leased out the dance palace and then, in October 1935, tried to continue the business as a purely Jewish amusement venue – hiring 22 Jewish employees. Lefebre approached the Police President for permission to offer “public dances for Jewish guests only.”[3] Despite the worsening conditions, Lefebre managed to continue this way until the November Pogrom. After being forced to adopt a “Jewish-sounding” name, Lefebre was then forced to liquidate the business in February of 1939.

Lefebre was not able to flee Germany. At the beginning of March 1943, he was rounded up as part of the so-called “Factory Action” and deported to Auschwitz where he was murdered.

(Christoph Kreutzmüller)

[1] Berliner Adressbuch, 1929, part IV, p. 745.

[2]  Letter from Klaus Kuntzmann to the regional court of Berlin, 2nd of September 1959, Compensation Authority of Berlin, 15757 Arthur Lefebre.

[3] Letter from Arthur Lefebre to the Police President, 22nd of February 1936, Compensation Authority of Berlin, 15757 Arthur Lefebre.

Odenheimer & Fink Wine Wholesaler and Distillery

The Odenheimer & Fink Wine Wholesaler and Distillery was entered into the Berlin commercial register in 1921 and could be found in the Schöneberg district of Berlin, at Eisenacherstraße 103. Initially, the company had been called the Fränkische Weinkellerei B. & D. Silbermann but the name was changed on the 19th of October 1922 once Siegfried Fink and Hugo Odenheimer had taken over the business.[1] Despite the company keeping this name up until its liquidation in 1938, Siegfried Fink would become the sole proprietor of the business on the 26th of August 1924.[2] Fink likely lived nearby at Mühlenstraße 8, with his wife Selma, née Süsskind.[3]

Berliner Adressbuch 1933, Part I, p. 1933.

In March 1938, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry was asked by the District Court to confirm that Odenheimer & Fink was still a registered trader and that the details of the business were up to date. The reply came on the 10th of May 1938 that the business had actually been a small trade enterprise for many years (most likely due to ever harsher anti-Semitic measures) and an application for the business to be struck from the commercial register was made. This termination would occur on the 8th of August 1938. By 1939, the couple was living in Reppichstraße 22.[4]

Tragically, on the 25th of October 1941, both Siegfried and Selma took their own lives. Considering the first deportations of Jews from Berlin began a few days before, on the 18th of October, it is likely that this decision was influenced by a sense of fear and desperation directly caused by Nazi antisemitism. It is known that two neighbours from the same house, Charlotte and Paula Rogozinski, would be deported to Riga on the 31st of August 1942 and murdered on the 8th of September.[5] By taking their own lives Siegfried and Selma used the only means at their disposal to prevent their lives from being taken from them. For this reason, the World Holocaust Remembrance Centre Yad Vashem quite rightly classifies their deaths as murder.[6]

Bethan Griffiths

[1] Erste Zentral-Handelsregister-Beilage zum Deutschen Reichsanzeiger und Preußischen Staatsanzeiger, Nr. 246, 31st of October 1922, p. 1.

[2] Erste Zentral-Handelsregister-Beilage zum Deutschen Reichsanzeiger und Preußischen Staatsanzeiger, Nr. 209, 4th of September 1924, p. 1.

[3] Zentral- und Landesbibliothek Berlin, Jüdisches Adressbuch für Groß-Berlin Ausgabe 1931/1932, p. 94, URL: [Accessed: 15.5.2022].

[4] Tracing the Past e.V (Ed.), Mapping the Lives, “Selma Fink, geb. Süsskind”, URL: [Accessed: 15.5.2022].

[5] Tracing the Past e.V. (Ed.), Mapping the Lives, “Paula and Charlotte Rogozinski” (date given here: 5.9.1942); notes that although the date 5th of September 1942 is often cited this is, in fact, the date given on the letter from the Berlin Police to the Chief Finance President of Berlin Brandenburg. The actual date of the 19th “Osttransport” was in fact 31st of August 1942:, Statistik und Deportation der jüdischen Bevölkerung aus dem Deutschen Reich, “19. Osttransport”, URL: [Accessed: 15.5.2022].

[6] World Holocaust Remembrance Centre Yad Vashem (Ed.), The Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names, “Siegfried Fink”, [Accessed: 15.5.2022).

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.










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

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

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