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Book event: How Hermann Tietz became Hertie

Authors, faculty and alumni discuss new study covering the ‘Aryanisation’ of the Hermann Tietz department store group.

“We will try to do the impossible now and provide you with some key facts about a book that is 400 pages long,” said Professor and historian Johannes Bähr in his opening presentation on Persecuted, 'Aryanised', compensated? How the Hermann Tietz department store group became Hertie (German original: Verfolgt, ‚arisiert‘, wiedergutgemacht? Wie aus dem Warenhauskonzern Hermann Tietz Hertie wurde). Bähr and his fellow historian Prof. Ingo Köhler are the authors of a newly published study with the same title, which explores the so-called Aryanisation of the former Jewish-owned department store group Hermann Tietz during the Nazi period. At a community event at the Hertie School on 1 March, the authors discussed the history of the group with faculty, students and interested members of the public. As the Hertie School’s name is connected to this era, the study is also relevant for our school.

In their presentation, Bähr and Köhler showed how the Jewish families Tietz and Zwillenberg were forced out of their business. Drawing from new archival material, the two historians shed light on the role of Georg Karg, the group’s former accountant who – following a prolonged process – became its new Managing Director as a second acquirer. In the post-war period, Karg was one of the most recognised figures in the department store business in Germany.

Forced out of business without fair compensation

“Karg was not a member of the Nazi party or hostile towards Jews, but he was a scrupulous businessman and the biggest profiteer of the ‘Aryanisation’,” Bähr explained. His and his co-author’s findings provided final clarity on a topic that had long been speculated about. Following a complex process, the Tietz family had to hand over their business to a bank group involuntarily; the group later made Karg the owner of the business, the historians explained. Because of their Jewish heritage, the Tietz and Zwillenberg families eventually had to emigrate and flee persecution without proper compensation, they said. Some were murdered during the Holocaust.

In the post-war period, Karg brought the department stores into a new era under the name “Hertie”. His entrepreneurial actions laid the groundwork for the later Hertie Foundation, which founded the Hertie School in 2003 and remains the school’s biggest supporter. In 2018, former students wanted to know more about the foundation’s history and how the department store group Hermann Tietz became Hertie. These students founded the initiative Her.Tietz and lobbied for research on the ‘Aryanisation’ process. 

Commemoration culture and the Tietz family at the Hertie School

One of the initiative’s founding members was Alexander Busold, who has remained active since the group’s beginning. Joining the panel with Bähr, Köhler, Hertie School President Cornelia Woll and Hertie School Professor of Psychology and Public Policy Ruth Ditlmann, Busold acknowledged the results. On behalf of Her.Tietz, he called on the Hertie School to incorporate the findings into the Hertie School’s day-to-day activities: “This event is just the beginning. We now have this knowledge basis, so how can we incorporate it into our commemoration culture?” Busold asked.

President Woll thanked the group for their activism and alluded to several projects which have been ongoing or are planned to commemorate the Tietz family. These include exchange with the Tietz’ descendants, discussions, lecture series and guided tours about the Tietz family, and more.

About the Hertie Foundation and the Hertie School

The foundation created by Karg and his descendants is today one of the largest independent foundations in Germany. Its work focusses on two major themes: brain research and strengthening democracy. In 2003, the Hertie Foundation established the international Hertie School in Berlin. The private university offers master’s and doctoral programmes, as well as executive education to prepare students for leadership positions in government, business and civil society.

About the Her.Tietz Initiative

The student and alumni initiative Her.Tietz advocates the transparent research and reappraisal of the history of the Jewish department store Hermann Tietz, including the connection to the contemporary non-profit Hertie Foundation and the Hertie School. The initiative is supported by the foundation Stiftung Erinnerung, Verantwortung, Zukunft and the non-profit Humanity in Action.

More about the book Persecuted, 'Aryanised', compensated? How the Hermann Tietz department store group became Hertie.

Watch a recording of the event on our YouTube channel.