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Final Sale in Berlin: What Happened to Berlin’s Jewish Businesses?

Final Sale in Berlin


The following is a guest blog post written by Christoph Kreutzmüller, author of Final Sale in Berlin: The Destruction of Jewish Commercial Activity, 1930-1945, which is newly published this year.

The following is a guest blog post written by Paolo Gaibazzi, Social Anthropologist and Research Fellow at the Centre for Modern Oriental Studies (ZMO). Gaibazzi is also the author of Bush Bound: Young Men and Rural Permanence in Migrant West Africa. Below, Gaibazzi discusses how ‘staying put’ may shed light on current West African migrations. – See more at:

Walking through the streets of Berlin in the early 1990s, I sometimes felt like I was thumbing through the pages of a derelict directory. On many of the crumbling façades in the inner city, scarred as they were by bullets and bombs, the open-eyed flaneur could decipher names of companies that had been active there, long before the war. Of course, I would wonder what had happened, after the Nazis had come to power, to the fruit retailer, the shoemaker, or the cobbler whose inscription I was passing. Did the shop hoist a Nazi flag, would it sell “Aryan” Easter eggs—or had it been attacked by stormtroopers? With the renovation of the houses many of these names were simply painted or even plastered over and the last trace of some Jewish businesses simply vanished from the Berlin cityscape. Yet the families involved have a right, and German society a responsibility, to know exactly where they were and what happened to them.


This was the starting point for a research project that I began in 2005 and that took ten years to complete. As a first step my team and I collected basic data on more than 8,000 Jewish businesses that experienced persecution under Nazi Rule, culminating in the Database of Jewish Businesses in Berlin. (An excerpt of the database, with select information on Jewish-identified companies, can also be viewed here.) The data collection was long and often tiresome work, so it was a relief to turn from that to planning and organizing the exhibition “Final Sale in Berlin: The End of Jewish-Owned Businesses in Nazi Berlin,” which has been displayed at the Leo Baeck Insitute in New York, Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and Boston University.

Fascade Dunkerstrasse 1993

Having finished the Database, we knew where the Jewish-owned companies had been, what their trade had been, what their fate was, and how long they survived. Looking at the data, it struck me as very peculiar and interesting is that in Berlin, Jewish-owned firms managed to stay in business much longer than anywhere else in Germany. Some businesses only closed when their owners had been deported! How did these businessmen and -women manage to stay afloat for so long? My attempt to answer this question is what led to my writing Final Sale in Berlin. My main aim was not only to reconstruct Nazi persecution and show how racism gradually destroyed Jewish commercial activity—and the Jews themselves—but also to explore Jewish strategies for countering the effects of that persecution. How did daily life change for them in a society whose economy became fractured along racist fault lines? Why did some individuals persevere, while others left Berlin? Which means of self-assertion were developed? Did a Jewish market evolve in Berlin—the “heart of darkness” of the Third Reich?



Christoph Kreutzmueller is a senior historian at the House of the Wannsee Conference and a curator of the Jewish Museum in Berlin. After training as a banker he studied History and English in Berlin and in the UK. His publications include Berlin 1933-1945 (with Michael Wildt, 2013) and National Economies. Volkswirtschaft, Racism and Economy in Europe between the Wars” (with Michael Wildt and Moshe Zimmermann, 2015).