Abandoned in Berlin


Abandoned in Berlin: An Historical Mystery Story:

Abandoned in Berlin, invites readers to decide if anti-Semitism ceased at the end of the Second World War or was continued by new West German laws that allowed the country to shrug off the need for redemption.

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Imagine taking a Rick Steves walking tour in Berlin during June 2016 with Hilda, a friend,  who wants to discover the huge block of apartments that her deceased mother and family once owned.  It had been forfeited to the Nazis about the time of the 1936 Berlin Olympics.  A few years before the Olympics, at the age of 11, because of the death of her father, Hilda’s mother had inherited three eighths of the building.  As a result, during late 1933, a short time after Hitler came to power, she was placed under the supervision of a Nazi Guardianship Court because she was under 21 and owned substantial assets.  Her mother could not be her guardian because of German law and the building fell under the control of the Court.

The property is found by Hilda in the Wilmersdorf district of Berlin, with its four stories of apartments and shops on the ground floor.  Apparently it had escaped the worst of the Berlin bombing, and after the War had come under the jurisdiction of the British. 

None of the apartment occupants Hilda spoke to admitted knowledge that the building was once owned by a Jewish family.  Her maternal family had left for Austria after the sale, where her mother married a Viennese Jewish journalist, her grandmother died and both parents escaped to Shanghai in 1941 where they lived for the remainder of the War.  This Hilda knew from a video tape that her mother  had made in the early 1990s, but that was all. No mention was made of how the block of apartments was lost and Hilda was determined to find out. 

The story describes Hilda’s efforts to discover what happened during the Nazi era and why the building was not returned to her family after the War.  The results were shocking.  She uncovers much more than she expected. 

Initially there was help from the local Land Register in the Amtsgericht (civil court), then unexpected support from the Berlin Archives Office, and finally a box of papers her mother had left behind in the garage when she died.  Slowly the jigsaw of aggression, collusion, threats, escape and denial began to take shape. For some members of the family, their lives ended in the Holocaust; for Hilda’s immediate household, however, because the Nazis took away the family livelihood before the War began, her mother survived and Hilda received the gift of life.

The book may be published but the story is possibly not complete. Hilda has been unable to trace the von Bonin family that took ownership of the apartment blocks in 1936. Captain Hugo von Bonin of Berlin W.35, Hansemannstrasse 13 assumed ownership in March 1936, and defended the legality of his purchase after the war. Irmard von Bonin became heiress of the property during 1975, and from 1981 to 1990 her heirs collectively owned the property. The businessman Karl Burkhard Meier bought the building in 1990 and sold it to the company Onnasch Baubetreuung GmbH &Co. two years later. Efforts to contact Mr. Onnasch have so far failed. It is understood that the firm may have by now sold the apartments to individual owners.  So far there is no public recognition that the building was once owned by a Jewish family  and that an 11-year old girl, who inherited three eighths of the building in 1930, was dispossessed of all property rights by a German Guardianship Court. 

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Dedicated to Herta, Vera, and Ellen

Ich werde dich nie vergessen

(I’ll never forget you)


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