Memorial to the Theft of Jewish Property by the Nazis

Memorial to the theft of Jewish property by the Nazis

By Moritz Rinke

On the 10th of November 1938, on the night of the pogrom, the Zwienicki family heard the rumble of the so-called “Rollkommandos” – small motorized task forces – in front of their house in Bremen’s New Town. It was 4.10 in the morning when three SA men rang the Zwienickis’ bell at the corner of Große Sortilienstraße and Hohentorstraße. Benno, the son, who had just turned twenty, opened the door. Two of the men ascended the stairs to the upper rooms – Benno had to wait at the door with the remaining SA man. Then, he heard his mother’s screams, followed by a noise as if someone had fallen to the ground. Shortly after, Benno was cradling his mother in his arms – one of the SA men had shot her in the heart, presumably out of anger over her refusal to reveal her husband’s hiding place.

Several hours prior, the ruling mayor of Bremen had given the order to destroy Jewish-owned shops, to set synagogues on fire, and to seize any valuables. And thus, the Ukrainian-born bicycle dealer Joseph Zwienicki found himself on the Rollkommando’s list as well, although he managed to escape across the roofs.

Beside his wife Selma, four more Jewish citizens were shot that night in the Bremen area and today’s Osterholz district respectively. Joseph Goebbels was “all in all” satisfied with the “Jewish Action”, as he’d noted in his diary. “Only in Bremen had it come to unpleasant excesses. But these get lost completely in the overall large-scale operation,” the minister of propaganda concluded.

That very same night, Benno was interrogated by the Criminal Investigation Department, after which he was taken to the concentration camp in Sachsenhausen. It was there during my research that I found his name on a huge commemorative plaque, not too far from another name: Adolf Maass, a Jewish merchant and businessman, who had owned big shares of the logistics company Kühne + Nagel until 1933, and who had completed his apprenticeship at its parent company in Bremen. At the very same company which profited from shipping seized Jewish valuables, i.e. the furnishings of deportees or emigrants. During the so-called MAktion (M for Möbel – furniture in German) – the shipping of furnishings of more than 70,000 Jewish households from the occupied Western territories – the company had helped redistribute loot to non-Jews across the Reich on freight trains and cargo ships.

After everything I’d managed to learn about the Zwienickis from Bremen, they had had a good life until the night of the pogrom. With their repair business for bicycles, motorbikes, gramophones and sewing machines, they and their children had gotten by well, but after that night and after Selma’s murder, that life had been shattered. The shop was deregistered and the house was forcibly sold far below its actual value. The same happened to Adolf Maass’s home in Hamburg in the Blumenstraße. On top of it, he was driven out of the company he himself had helped build up by the Kühne brothers.

Joseph Zwienicki, Benno’s father, received a meagre 1200 Reichsmark for his house and its inventory – a sum that was just about enough to purchase ship tickets to Montreal for him and two of his sons.

That both Adolf Maass and Benno Zwienicki got arrested on the night of the pogrom and were taken to the concentration camp in Sachsenhausen the very same day is a testimony of the national-socialist hate campaigns against Jews and, above all, of the acceleration of the overall willingness to annihilate Jewish life.

Thus, this memorial connects two different fates. One, a victim of the Nazis and his unworthy successors at Kühne + Nagel, the parent company of which continues to symbolize the unprocessed “Aryanization” – the looting and selling of Jewish property. The other, traumatized by his mother’s murder and robbed of his heritage in Bremen.

After his liberation from the concentration camp, Benno Zwienicki joined his family in Montreal.

Adolf Maass and his wife were murdered in Auschwitz in 1945. Later on, relatives of the Maass family managed to escape to Montreal as well. That out of all companies it had been Kühne + Nagel which expanded into Montreal in 1953 certainly must have been more than a disconcerting footnote in the Maass’s lives.

Translated by Dariusz Schimankowitz