The Value of a Life

After finding out at the International Tracing Service in Bad Arolsen that there were Gestapo files on several of my relatives I was very excited that our next stop was Duisburg. This is where the State of North Rhine Westfalia (NRW) Archives are located. The building is on the waterfront of the inner harbor of the city and is a massive red brick building. I found it somewhat beautiful and off putting all at once.

Once inside, we were directed to the reading room which was unexpectedly light-filled and airy with large windows all along one wall. Since I had contacted the NRW ahead of time, they had my requested files ready and waiting. I signed in, was handed a large stack of folders, and told to sit in a certain section of the reading room while looking through them.

Most of the files I was looking at were from after the war. There were numerous letters from attorneys. These files represented what was left after the Germans had stolen everything from my family members – both from their personal accounts and belongings and from their businesses. In the late 1940s and even into the 1950s my grandparents were trying to reclaim what had been taken from them and their parents. This was not a straightforward procedure as various entities had more than one claimant due to the way the Germans took over businesses, sold them to different owners – who actually paid for them – but then ended up with stolen property. Most of the pages I simply couldn’t understand as the German legal vocabulary wasn’t covered in German 101. But I could see that it took years of fighting for my grandparents to get something back.

While I was leafing through the numerous folders filled with all the reparation information, my husband went through the books which contained the Gestapo file information so we could ask the archivists to pull the files we had just learned about the day before. We were lucky to be able to get these files before we left and I was shocked to find out that they dated from 1938 – two years after the family had left Germany.

In these files there were letters between the Gestapo offices in Dusseldorf and the Niederrheinische Actien-Gesellschaft für Lederfabrikation (The Lower Rhine Corporation – Company for Leather Fabrication). This was the new name of my great-great-grandfather’s (Zacharias Spier) leather factory in Wickrath, Germany after the Germans aryanized it. My great grandfather, Louis Spier, who worked for his father, wanted the deed of his confiscated home. The Germans wanted an accounting of all of Louis’ assets. The Gestapo was delineating the “Aberkennung der deutschen Staatsangehörigkeit des Juden” – the withdrawal of German citizenship of the Jew – Louis Spier, born the 9th of November 1873 in Wickrath.”

Here is the final document of the series for one file:

Louis Assets 1938The main points of the document read as follows:

The realignment of the remaining assets within the country of the Jew Louis Spier is as follows:
1 – House in Wickrath, Bismarkallee 17 unit value                                            RM 35,900
2 – Securities of lower amounts, probably at Bankhaus Pferdmenges
in Cologne. We do not know the amount, nor does the finance department
of Rheydt.
3 – Pension claim to the NAG in Wickrath (80% of earning from 1936)       RM 30,000
Of these, as partial payment on 8th of December 1938. RM 20,000 –
approved, (foreign exchange office Dusseldorf, Subject Area III Select.)
4 – Termination indemnity for the resignation of the executive office
which also on 8th December 1938 were approved. (Foreign Exchange
Office Dusseldorf, Subject Area III Select.)                                                         RM 100,000

Other assets within the country no longer possessed.

And so on the 23 of December 1938 my great grandfather’s life was summed up as being worth 165,900 Reich Marks. Six years later he was murdered at Auschwitz. The Germans had taken everything he owned and then they took him.

I wondered how my grandmother did it. How did she have the strength to continue to fight? First – to continue to keep up hope after everything had been taken, including her parents. And later, after the war, each deposition and appeal for reparation had to bring back the fear and sadness all over again. Each memo and phone call to a lawyer would have brought the pain of the war and losing so many friends and family members. The effects of war continue years after peace treaties are signed.

2 thoughts on “The Value of a Life

  1. Scott Cleland says:

    ‘The effects of war continue years after peace treaties are signed.’

    So, true and so true on so many levels. In some cases, the situation created health conditions that killed years later. For example the Shoah and on another level people don’t often concede; the nuclear bombings in Japan. WWII was a indeed a hideous war that continued to kill ing after it was over; continued to destroy the human psyche; wreak financial havoc, etc., etc., etc., etc.,…

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