Israel's Department Store in Berlin, also known as Nathan Israel's Department Store and House of Israel, was one of the largest retail establishments in Europe during the 1930s.[2]

Because it was owned by a Jewish family, the store was boycotted by the German government when the Nazi Party came to power in 1933. It was ransacked during Kristallnacht in 1938, then handed over by the Nazis to a non-Jewish family. The descendants of the original owners began to receive compensation for their losses after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.


The business was started in 1815 by Nathan Israel as a small second-hand store at the Molkenmarkt in Berlin. By 1925, it employed over 2,000 people, and was a member of the Berlin stock exchange.[3]


At 10 a.m. on April 1, 1933, members of the Sturmabteilung moved into place all over Germany, positioning themselves outside Jewish-owned businesses to deter customers. Stormtroopers positioned themselves by the main doors of the department store on Alexandeplatz, holding placards with the words: "Germans! Defend yourselves! Don't buy from Jews" ("Deutsche! Wehrt Euch! Kauft nicht bei Juden!"[1]

Kristallnacht and takeover

The building was ransacked and set on fire during Kristallnacht on November 10, 1938—the "Night of Broken Glass," an anti-Jewish pogrom during which thousands of Jewish homes and businesses were ransacked or set alight—though firemen were able to put out the blaze.[4] Later that year, the company was handed over by the Nazis to the non-Jewish Emil Köster AG, and in 1939, it reopened as Das Haus im Zentrum, its "aryanization" complete, according to the Israel family's papers.[3] The family helped most of the store's Jewish employees, especially their children, leave Germany before the war began.[1]

After the takeover

Following the takeover of the store, Wilfrid Israel, who had run the business with his brother, emigrated to England, where he took up a research position at Balliol College, Oxford. From there, he tried to establish contact with the German underground through Sir Stafford Cripps, Britain's foreign minister, and organized ship transports for Jewish children escaping from Europe. He died in 1943 along with the actor Leslie Howard, when their civilian plane was shot down by the Luftwaffe over the Bay of Biscay. They were allegedly flying as a decoy so that another plane, which carried Winston Churchill, could land safely.[3]

Because the store was situated in what became East Berlin, the Israel family first began to receive compensation for their financial losses after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.[3]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "Boycotts", Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, University of Minnesota, retrieved September 6, 2006.
  2. Gilbert, Martin. Kristallnacht: Prelude to Destruction. HarperCollins, 2006, p. 50.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 "Guide to the Papers of the Israel Family 1814-1996", AR 25140, Leo Baeck Institute, Center for Jewish History, retrieved September 6, 2006.
  4. "The Road to World War II", Western New England College.

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