A hoard of valuable paintings was found in someone’s flat in Germany; we can
only guess their true ownership. These are also the last days of the search for
those who hunted, robbed and killed and perhaps the last chance to seek justice
for another, too-long-forgotten robbery.
On August 22, 2001, I wrote a
long letter to the Claims Conference telling them all that I knew concerning the
history of major Jewish printing presses in Poland, and in particular of those
stationed in Warsaw.
All of them were destroyed during the Holocaust, but
the more valuable ones were dismantled and transported by the SS to Germany
during the first months of World War II.
Most of this well-organized
robbery took place in Warsaw on October 24-26, 1939, but it was meticulously
planned even before the war began. It was carried out under the supervision of
SS officer Anton Hergel, who arrived in Warsaw as a printing machinery engineer
in 1923 and thus knew exactly what to take and from where.
sought Hergel’s advice whenever the purchase and installation of the new
machinery was concerned and so did other Jewish press owners. Hergel left Poland
during the summer of 1939 and returned as a SS officer and was appointed the
Treuhandler (supervisor) of all Jewish printing presses in Poland. He also
advised, before the war, the huge Polish government press, which was taken away
to Germany with major Jewish presses at the same time.
industry stopped the manufacturing of the printing machinery long before 1939,
when it started manufacturing guns, but allowed the repair and overhaul of the
old printing machines, which had as a result become most valuable
All this is well known, and the act of robbery was described in
great detail in all Polish and Yiddish publications.
The printing houses
of the biggest Polish-Jewish newspapers like Nasz Przeglad (Our Opinion),
Moment, Folkszeitung and many others were emptied of all their machinery,
stores, lead and copper lettering, even the newsprint. The transport was
supervised by Hergel, who was “assisted” by his Jewish “colleague,”
Kramarski, a well-known printing Jewish innovator.
was later found dead after the machines which he disassembled had been loaded on
the Zelazna Street train siding for transport to Germany.
The SS later
established its own printing press inside the Warsaw Ghetto, set up from the
remains of some small, confiscated printing presses. A few members of my family
worked there, until the ghetto was destroyed and they were all sent to
The Jewish printing industry in Poland was one of the oldest
in Europe. It employed thousands of workers and was one of the few industrial
occupations in which Jews massively participated. All over Poland there were
many printing presses, which were mostly manufactured in Germany, since the
Poles had limited printing machinery production facilities. In Warsaw alone,
there were about 500 Jewish printing presses, out of which only approximately 30
were major printing establishments.
Most were small and antiquated, but
they all used the German-made printing equipment.
The Polish government
supported trade ties with Germany and made it difficult to import American
printing equipment after 1933 when many Jewish press owners started to boycott
It might be of historical interest for the reader to
realize that at same time, at the end of October 1939, Hergel’s two friends:
Julius Streicher, the notorious editor of Der Stuermer, and Wilhelm Liebel,
mayor of Nuremberg and owner of the prosperous Wilmy printing house where the
Stuermer was printed, had “helped themselves” to museums, libraries and printing
presses, selecting those belonging to the Jews and to the Polish
Some witnesses of the robbery claimed that Jews were told the
stolen machinery was a “gift” from Polish Jews to the German Organization for
the Strengthening of German Culture.
Some machines were supposed to be
shipped to Nurenberg, where Der Stuermer, was printed and which indeed shortly
afterwards increased itself both in its size and number of pages.
were rife in those days that Germany might arrive at some sort of an agreement
with England, and a Polish protectorate will be restored. The anticipation of
this move spurred the Nazis’ stealing orgy. Hegel was very well acquainted with
the Polish government press and the Jewish major presses in Warsaw, and needed
no lists and no instructions. Few people realized at that time what had
happened. Jews were in a state of complete panic during these first weeks of
occupation, but the matter received considerable attention in the postwar Polish
sources and Jewish publications.
It was described in great detail in
Yiddish in the Jewish Printers Memorial Book, published in Poland in 1949. After
the machines were taken away, large scores of Jewish refugees from western
Poland found lodging in the empty premises.
AFTER THE end of the war and
the passing of German reparation laws, a few Jewish claimants, including myself,
applied for the recognition of their losses. German law required proof from the
claimants that the equipment which they had owned was not only sent to Germany,
but had actually arrived there and where.
This was very hard to prove
because of the very obvious fact that the equipment was of German manufacture,
bore no special marks and was easily disguised.
The SS did not inform
Jewish owners where the machines were sent. The German manufacturers refused to
cooperate, claiming that all purchase documents were destroyed during the war.
Certain evidence pointed out to the Nuremberg firm MAN printing equipment
manufacturers, which might have dealt with such machinery, which still needed
adjustment to German printing standards.
The MAN people declared, just
like the Linotype Manufacturers in Berlin, that all their records were destroyed
by Allied bombings. When confronted by the US-prepared lists of stolen equipment
brought to their plants not only from Poland but from all over Europe (these
lists are deposited in US Army archives in Alexandria, Virginia), the
manufacturers refused to acknowledge them. The German press owners kept their
At the MAN plant in Berlin a huge Moment rotary press was
discovered. It had been sold to Ullstein Publishers.
General Prawin, of
the Polish Restitution Mission, claimed it as part of the Polish equipment
stolen from Warsaw Jews during the war.
The Keren Keyemet offices in
Israel established a special branch assisting such Jewish claimants. I found a
number of necessary documents and witnesses to prove the authenticity of my
demands. Keren Kayemet lawyers had even located Anton Hergel in Germany, a sick
and dying witness, since he was shot and badly wounded by Polish underground in
Warsaw during the war.
Hergel gave sworn testimony that major Jewish
presses were sent from Poland to Germany. However, after seven years of
litigation the German Supreme Reparations Court ruled that while I had proved
that my father’s and uncle’s machinery were dismantled and taken to Germany,
since I could offer no proof regarding to whom they were delivered, both Keren
Kayemet and myself had lost the case.
Apparently the guardians of the
German justice firmly believed that their SS colleagues in the occupied Warsaw
had provided the Jewish press owners with the relevant information.
addressed the Claims Conference regarding their intervention as the last chance
to regain what was otherwise lost forever. The answer which I received on
September 5, 2001, stated that the Conference had discussed the issue, but that
regretfully they were unable to help me, and indirectly others, in this
Since the documents which I presented indicated that I assumed that
the printing presses were sent to Nuremberg, it would only be possible to claim
compensation for the presses if they had been taken to the former German
Democratic republic, now the new German state; claims are based on property law
which only applies to the new German states.
The Conference realized that
this was not good news for me. After discussing the matter in detail they were
afraid that there is simply no way of asserting a claim for compensation. It was
signed “Yours Sincerely.”
I wonder what were the subjects that the
Conference discussed at such length before resolving not to pursue the case any
further. True, I assumed that the presses were sent to Nuremberg, but if they
indeed landed in East Germany why not to look for them there, after this part of
Germany was liberated? After all, German Jews received full compensation for one
of the biggest Ullstein Berlin printing press in Europe. May be our machines
went to Ullstein, like the Moment printing press? Were the Jewish presses in
Poland stolen during the war and transported to Germany worthless? Why this
sudden loss of interest in stolen Jewish property? Is this not what the Claims
Conference should take care of? Doesn’t this specific group of Holocaust victims
deserve special consideration? Something seems to be wrong, very wrong, in the
Conference’s attitude to a very simple matter that still needs to be
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