Israel's Department Store
Israel's Department Store (German: Kaufhaus N. Israel or Kaufhaus Nathan Israel), also Nathan Israel's Department Store and House of Israel), was a department store in Berlin. The business was started in 1815 by Nathan Israel as a small second-hand store in the Molkenmarkt. By 1925, it employed over 2,000 people and was a member of the Berlin Stock Exchange, and in the 1930s was one of the largest retail establishments in Europe. Because it was owned by Jews, the store was boycotted by the German government when the Nazi Party came to power in 1933. It was ransacked during Kristallnacht in 1938, then handed over by the Nazis to a non-Jewish family. The descendants of the original owners began to receive compensation for their losses after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
Takeover by German Nazis
At 10 a.m. on 1 April 1933, members of the Sturmabteilung moved into place all over Germany, positioning themselves outside Jewish-owned businesses to deter customers. Stormtroopers positioned themselves by the main doors of the department store on Alexanderplatz, holding placards with the words: "Germans! Defend yourselves! Don't buy from Jews" (Deutsche! Wehrt Euch! Kauft nicht bei Juden!).
The building was ransacked and set on fire during Kristallnacht on 10 November 1938, during which thousands of Jewish homes and businesses were ransacked or set alight, though firemen were able to put out the blaze. Later that year the company was handed over by the Nazis to the non-Jewish Emil Köster AG, and in 1939 it reopened as Das Haus im Zentrum, its "Aryanization" complete, according to the Israel family's papers. The family helped most of the store's Jewish employees, especially their children, leave Germany before the war began.
After the takeover
Following the takeover of the store, Wilfrid Israel, who had run the business with his brother, emigrated to England, where he took up a research position at Balliol College, Oxford. From there, he tried to establish contact with the German underground through Sir Stafford Cripps, Britain's foreign minister, and organized ship transports for Jewish children escaping from Europe. He died in 1943 along with the actor Leslie Howard, when their civilian plane was shot down by the Luftwaffe over the Bay of Biscay. They were allegedly flying as a decoy so that another plane, which carried Prime Minister Winston Churchill, could land safely.
The store was situated in what became East Berlin, East Germany, a country which did not provide reparations to Jews for Nazi-era forced take-overs of their businesses. Thus the Israel family, the previous owners, began to receive compensation for their financial losses only after the Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the unification of Germany.
- "Guide to the Papers of the Israel Family 1814-1996", AR 25140, Leo Baeck Institute, Center for Jewish History, retrieved September 6, 2006.
- Gilbert, Martin. Kristallnacht: Prelude to Destruction. HarperCollins, 2006, p. 50.
- "Boycotts", Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, University of Minnesota, retrieved 6 September 2006.
- "The Road to World War II", Western New England College.
- Dessa, A Tribute to Kaufhaus N. Israel 1815-1939, Switzerland: Deborah Petroz-Abeles, 2003. ISBN 2-940223-03-3