When Henri James Simon died in 1932, the last German Emperor, Wilhelm of Prussia, sent a wreath from his Dutch exile. After 1933, however, Simon’s name vanished from public spaces and schoolbooks. The Nazis refused to recognize Simon or any other Jews, much less their impact on Germany’s economic or cultural development. Many German visitors admiring the Nefertiti bust today still do not know who financed the excavation and donated the findings to the Berlin State Museum – or that Simon wished it returned to its rightful owners, the Egyptian people. Most Germans know nothing about Simon, his efforts to mitigate poverty, or his contributions to the arts. While it is not possible to restore the loss of Jewish citizens to Germany – their entrepreneurial energy, philanthropic service, or cultural production – it is crucial to remember them and recognize how integral to German history they were.
After 1945, some of the Jews who survived the Holocaust tried to reclaim their property. Those efforts were complicated by the division of Germany. The Federal Republic (West Germany) and German Democratic Republic (East Germany) developed very different policies regarding compensation and indemnification of Nazi victims. In the West, initial restitution claims were rejected by German courts and overturned by American and British ones. Those who benefited from “Aryanization” sought to avoid restitution or compensation to the original Jewish owners. They argued that the companies had been worth little to begin with, that the war had destroyed them, or that it was the talents of the new “Aryan” owners that made the businesses flourish. Restitution was complicated and often unsuccessful. Only a small percentage of Jewish descendants prevailed.
After the collapse of communism in the East, the descendants of German Jews who had owned property in areas of the country that became East Germany lodged restitution claims with the reunified German government. They faced many of the same challenges as those in the West, and although many properties have been restored to their rightful owners, others still await judgment.