But last year, after an unexpected marketing call, the 49-year-old businessman called a retired teacher in Israel to apologize for the actions of his grandfather whom he had never met..
While growing up, Edelman heard rumors about the family business and suspected it was formerly owned by Jews who were forced to sell to his grandfather to his father, Wilhelm.
In recent years, a father of two has begun to pursue a career in genealogy. He came across Nazi tax records confirming that the Jewish owner – Benjamin Heidelberger – was forced to sell the hardware store in Bad Mergentheim, southern Germany, in 1938 after the introduction of the anti-Semitic Nuremberg laws.. . These laws restricted Jews from the German economy by making the confiscation of their property legal.
Edelman mentioned this by going through to a salesperson from MyHeritage, the online family tree building site, who called to discuss his subscription..
Two weeks later, Edelman received a call from MyHeritage. They discovered two important records: Heidelberger’s 1942 naturalization record from British Mandate Palestine, and his grave next to his wife Emma in northern Israel.. Moreover, they discover that Heidelberg has a live granddaughter.
Hanna Ehrenreich, an 83-year-old retired teacher, knew everything about the store that became known as Willie Edelman. So much so, that a black and white photo of her – with her grandfather’s former name – still adorns the walls of her home in Israel.
Edelman, who lost contact with his father after his parents’ divorce in the early 1970s, knew little about his paternal family history and had nothing to do with the thriving retail chain that had sprung from the hardware store.. .
While the store itself no longer exists, the Edelman family still owns the building, along with many other properties in the city. However, he does not have a stake in the company.
Edelman sent a message to Ehrenreich in English through MyHeritage – unaware she actually grew up speaking German.
He wrote: « I believe that if my family supported the injustice your grandparents suffered, it is our duty to take that into account and assume the responsibility at least in contacting you to listen and learn. ». As I am part of the Edelmann family, I want to take the first step and listen to you.
“I understand that you may not see any benefit for yourself personally in talking to me. But with my understanding and ability to educate my children and possibly other members of my family about the impact of certain historical decisions, it may help them make better decisions in their lives, ”Edelman continued..
At the moment, the political climate in our country is poisoned. There is a new anti-Semitism coming. I want to make sure that at least my family will never again be responsible for the injustice suffered by others, but I will stand to participate in favor of the vulnerable. ‘. .
After receiving Edelman’s letter, Ehrenreich agreed to speak to him, and weeks later the couple spent 90 minutes discussing their families’ pasts over the phone, in German..
« It was a very good conversation, » Ehrenreich told CNN.. “Thomas wanted to hear how we were. I said we were happy, and we had a good life.
Ehrenrich told Edelman that Benjamin Heidelberger and his wife Emma – her paternal grandparents – used money from the forced sale of their store to flee to Palestine in 1938, just weeks before the horrific events of Kristallnacht, the violent wave of anti-Jewish massacres on November 9 and 10..
Ehrenreich’s parents arrived in Israel earlier and she was born there in 1937. Sadly, her maternal grandparents stayed in Germany and passed away under the Nazi regime.
She said, « He was so touched and said he was very happy to hear the story on my part – he was almost crying. ».
Erinrich, who was close to her grandfather, shared her account of the events surrounding the takeover of the shop with Edelman, allaying some of his fears and doubts about what had happened.. .
She said Heidelberger used to talk a lot about his homeland and kept a diary in his native language.
In it he wrote: “My successor at work, Wilhelm Edelman, came every first month to pay the rent, and although he was a member of the Nazi Party, he was a respectable man and not an anti-Semite.. .
“In the fall of 1937, we sold him our house for 10,000 marks, even though the price I asked for was 15,000. In July 1938, we sold our store and warehouse at the bargain price of 28,500 marks, the same amount I had bought it for 30 years earlier, » Heidelberger continued..
“Under various circumstances, I could have sold it for 40. 000. But at that time many Jewish businesses in Bad Mergentheim were sold for undervalued..
« One day he came to Edelman and said that I must leave Germany as soon as possible, » he wrote.. « There were plans to act against the Jews and he felt compelled to warn me that I am his good friend.
Ehrenreich, who visited the store on a family trip to Bad Mergentheim in the 1980s, told CNN: “I knew Edelman was actually the person who bought the store.. I understood that he was a good man, although he was a member of the Nazi Party.
Edelman said he was deeply touched by the call and the couple kept in touch; He hopes to visit Israel in the future.
“It was an emotional moment when I heard Hannah on the phone and when she told me about her grandfather,” he said. . “Even though her family was treated very badly, they were very friendly and didn’t hold me responsible for anything.
But while he was happy to hear Ehrenreich’s account of events, Edelman says he still has doubts about his grandfather..
“I know my grandfather was a very accomplished businessman. As a student during the 1920s, he was already a member of the Nazi Party, that is, before Hitler came to power.
« So I don’t think he was a good man, I’m not 100% convinced.. I doubt he did not take advantage of the situation.
Edelman feels reconciling with the past is an important lesson for his children, particularly his 15-year-old son, Finn, who started learning about the Nazi past in Germany in high school last year..
“I want him to understand what history is and what history means. Although it has nothing to do with this story, it was our ancestors who influenced the lives of an entire family that lived in this country. ». . “I want him to learn and understand that any decisions he makes have an impact on someone else’s life.
Roy Mandel, Head of Research at MyHeritage, told CNN that the company’s support team is trained to search for unique cases that may require additional search support.. .
He said, « Even though we only had the name ‘Benjamin Heidelberger’ to work with, the weight of history rests on our shoulders. ». . We are happy to have participated in such an important reconciliation.
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The Jewish People, Nazism, the Nazi Party and Israel
World News – African Union – A German man apologizes to the descendants of the Jewish business owner for the actions of his Nazi grandfather
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