After over seven decades since the time Berlin Zoo forced its Jewish stockholders out, the institution decided to face its dark Nazi past head on in an effort to come clean out of it.
One Berlin historian has been combing into a lot of names in order to identify members during the WWII era who were forced sell off their shares back cheaply to the zoo all because of the Third Reich. They also have begun to track down and contact the descendants of these people.
Monika Schmidt, a historian, gives out an estimate that in the 1930s, over a quarter of the zoo’s 4000 shareholders were Jews.
“But they were pushed out step by step by the zoo itself, before the Nazi state asked any institution to do those things,” Miss Schmidt revealed.
Shareholders of the zoo did not gain any monetary profit from holding shares of the said institution but they did enjoy free entry to it and the influence of being one of the few who supported such humane social cause.
In her research, Miss Schmidt, who was from Berlin’s Center for Research on Antisemitism, was able to locate 89-year-old Jochanan Asriel whose grandfather had been one of the zoo’s shareholders. He lived near the zoo grounds in his younger years and even remembered that he frequently visited the place’s playground with his bicycle.
He had fled Germany in his teen years and had since then lived in Haifa, Israel.
“I remember all the animals, and I remember where they were placed.
I don’t remember what I ate yesterday, but what I remember from the zoo, I remember very well,” he mused, recalling those bygone years.
Mr. Asriel further added that he paid his last visit to the zoo 20 years ago to find out what happened to his grandfather’s shares learned that the zoo had changed hands since the Third Reich.
Miss Schmidt is commissioned by the same zoo for her tracking work – she had to pore over thousands of names recorded in the after-war recreation of the institution shareholders’ log and comparing the information she extracted to residence and restitution records to be able to rightly identify the zoo’s past Jewish patrons and their relatives.
She then plans to get these names published along with their biographies this coming 2014.