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Grandson of Nazi reaches out to victims

The grandson of a Nazi businessman has tracked down and apologised to the Jews his ancestor wronged.Thomas Edelmann, 49, from Germany, mentioned his suspicions of his grandfather’s dark Nazi past to a salesperson from MyHeritage, an online family tree website.He believed his grandpa had forced a Jewish family, the Heidelbergers, to sell their business to…

The grandson of a Nazi businessman has tracked down and apologised to the Jews his ancestor wronged.

Thomas Edelmann, 49, from Germany, mentioned his suspicions of his grandfather’s dark Nazi past to a salesperson from MyHeritage, an online family tree website.

He believed his grandpa had forced a Jewish family, the Heidelbergers, to sell their business to him for a tidy profit in 1938, at a time when it was exceedingly difficult for Jews to prosper in Nazi Germany.

Fascinated, the MyHeritage research team spent two weeks tracking down the last surviving relative of the Heidelbergers — their 87-year-old granddaughter, now living in Israel.

The grandson and granddaughter of these respective families ended up having a 1.5 hour phone call.

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Mr Edelmann had recently developed an interest in genealogy and mentioned his family’s past to MyHeritage while discussing paying a subscription.

The father of two had always suspected his prosperous family business, a hardware store named Willi Edelmann after his grandfather Willhelm Edelmann, had a dark past.

Nazi tax records showed that the shop had been created by a Jewish man – Benjamin Heidelberger – before he was forced to sell the hardware store in Bad Mergentheim, southern Germany, in 1938.

Jews were left with little choice but to sell their businesses – often for much lower prices than they were worth — after the introduction of the anti-Semitic Nuremberg laws in Germany, which restricted the rights of Jewish citizens.

MyHeritage found that Benjamin Heidelberger had a living granddaughter, an 83-year-old retired teacher by the name of Hanna Ehrenreich, CNN reported.

The Heidelbergers had fled to Israel after selling up their shop and Hanna Ehrenreich had lived there all her life.

Mr Edelmann sent a letter to Ms Ehrenreich that read: “I believe that if my family supported the injustice your grandparents experienced, it is our duty to take this into account and take over responsibility at least in getting in touch with 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 do understand that you might not see any benefit for yourself personally in talking to me.

“But with me understanding and being able to teach my children and possibly other family members about the impact of particular historical decisions, this might help them to make better decisions in their lives,” Edelmann continued.

“Currently, the political climate in our country is poisoned. There is a new antisemitism upcoming.

“I want to make sure that at least my family will never again be responsible for injustice experienced by others, but stand up to take partfor the weak.”

After receiving Mr Edelmann‘s letter, Hanna Ehrenreich was happy to speak to him over the phone. Their conversation lasted 90 minutes.

“It was such an emotional moment when I heard Hanna on the phone and when she told me about her grandfather,” Mr Edelmann told CNN.

“Although her family was treated so badly she was very friendly and didn‘t hold me responsible for anything.”

Ms Ehrenreich was also happy how the conversation had gone.

“It was a very good conversation,” Ms Ehrenreich told CNN.

“Thomas wanted to hear how we had been. I said we were happy, and we have had a good life.”

Ms Ehrenreich told the Nazi grandson that her maternal grandparents had remained in Germany and died under the Nazi regime.

“He was very moved and said he was so happy to hear the story from my side — he was almost crying,” she said.

Mr Edelmann was also surprised to learn that although his grandfather Willhelm was a Nazi, he had been largely sympathetic to the Jewish plight and had helped out the Heidelbergers.

Benjamin Heidelberger had kept a diary, which revealed that Mr Edelmann had purchased his house and store for a decent price and hadn’t exploited the situation.

The house was bought for 10,000 Reichsmark and the store for 28,500 Reichsmark – “the same sum for which I had bought it 30 years earlier,” Heidelberger wrote.

Mr Edelmann had also warned the family to leave Germany as he knew things were going to get worse.

The Heidelbergers were able to flee to Israel with the money they had acquired from selling their property and business to Mr Edelmann,

The diary entry also read: “My business successor, Wilhelm Edelmann, … was a member of the Nazi party, (but) he was a decent man and not an anti-Semite.”

Ms Ehrenreich had met Willhelm Edelmann once when she visited the hardware shop in the 1980s.

“I knew Edelmann was indeed the person who bought the shop,” she said. “I understood that he was a good man, although he was a member of the Nazi party.”

However, Willhelm’s grandson Thomas still has his doubts.

“I know my grandfather was a very good businessman,” he said.

“When he was a student during the 1920s he was already a member of the Nazi party, which was before Hitler came to power.

“So I don‘t believe he was such a good man, I’m not 100% convinced. I doubt he didn’t take advantage of the situation.”

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