What can you “say” at a grave

לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי ר׳ שאול זעליג הכהן בן ר׳ יהודה הכהן,  מקדושי ניצולי השואה האיומה בשנה ב׳ להסתלקותו לרקיע השמימא

My father, Shaul Zelig HaCohen ז’’ל
My father, אבי מורי,  R’ Shaul Zelig HaCohen ז’’ל ּBalbin

(At least) One of my readers, is a Talmid Chochom, and a genius. I don’t have permission to publish his name so I will not do so. However, on this particular matter I disagree with him perhaps, and I believe that my opinion is the accepted one, and his thinking is somewhat skewed for whatever reason (which is generally not like him).

There is a הלכה that say אין דרורשין על המת one doesn’t “ask from” the dead.

It is an ancient tradition to visit the graves of Tzadikim. For example, Kalev prayed at Meoras ha-Machpeilah before confronting the meraglim (Sotah 34b). See also Ta’anis 23b.

There are also Minhagim brought in Shulchan Aruch and many other places to go on fast days, Erev Rosh Hashono, Yom Kippur etc since going at such times can affect the person to repent and minimise their own self-importance.

The Gemora in Taanis also mentions a second reason (16a) and that is to ask the dead to pray for mercy on our behalf. Reading this one would automatically assume one may ask a Tzadik to pray on our behalf  at auspicious times, according to various Minhagei Yisroel and Mesorah/tradition.

It would seem that according to this second explanation, one may pray to the dead in this fashion. Yet, we are also taught that it is strictly forbidden as a Torah Law! One who prays with such a singular intention transgresses the Torah command of “You shall not recognize the gods of others in my presence (see the authoritative Gesher ha-Chayim 2:26). One may also be transgressing the Torah command against “one who consults the dead” (see Shoftim 18:11 and Eliyohu Rabbah 581:4).

Now, the Pri Megadim Orach Chaim 581:16 (and others) explain this conundrum as meaning that  it is okay to speak directly to the dead to ask them to daven or beseech to Hashem on our behalf. This is in keeping with the style of Selichos that we recite and whose authors were not plain poets. Some also ask Malachim (intermediaries) to beseech Hashem on our behalf. The Melachim aren’t able to do anything but they can be a more effective mouth piece according to Mesorah/tradition. Others don’t accept this explanation and say that even this is forbidden (see Bach and Shach Yoreh Deah 179:15) and the authoritative Maharil, Hilchos Ta’anis as quoted in the Be’er Heitev Orach Chaim 581:17).

Instead, their take on this is we pray directly to Hashem that in the merit of the Tzadik/Dead person, Hashem should extend mercy to us. We are inspired to visit graves to “remind” Hashem of the holy tazddikim who are physically buried there. This view is accepted as normative Halacha by a bevy of Acharonim including the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, Be’er Heitev, Chayei Adam, Mateh Efrayim and others.

The Chofetz Chaim in the Mishna Brura (581:27) says that we visit, because a cemetery where tzaddikim are buried is a place where Tefillos are more readily answered. But one should never place his trust in the dead themselves. He should instead just ask Hashem to have mercy on him in the merit of the tzaddikim who are interred here.

That being said, the Munkatcher Gaon, the great defender of Chassidishe Minhohim, the  Minchas Elozor, who was a great defender of Chassidic customs, and is commonly quoted by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, seeks to defend those who use a more direct discourse with the dead (see his Teshuva in 1:68). He, of course, makes reference to the Zohar and says that this is a positive practice.

Practically speaking, all opinions agree that it is strictly forbidden to daven directly to a dead person or Malach so that they should help us. The most that is permitted is to ask them to act as emissaries to Hashem, so that Hashem will look favourably upon us.

The Maharam Shick, Orach Chaim 293, and prime student of the Chasam Sofer, explains this nicely. He explains that there must be nothing between a Jew and Hashem. However, it is permissible for a Jew to ask another Jew to be an intermediary between him and Hashem.

The Maharam Shick goes on to  explain the apparent anomaly in the name of his teacher: When one Jew approaches another and tells of the pain he is suffering, the other Jew feels it just as he does. Now they are both in need of prayer. The Jew does not feel he is praying for an “other”–he is praying for himself.

In other words, all Yidden are Guf Echad (one body) so that if the toe is hurting, it needs the head and the heart to help it. So too, if we are in need, we can call upon all other Jews–and especially those who are the head and the heart of our people—to pray for us as well. Because if one Jew is hurting, we are all hurting.

According to the Talmud (and the Zohar), those righteous souls who have passed on from this world are still very much in touch with their students and family and care for them and their problems. We petition them to pray on our behalf—and they do and often their prayers are more effective than our own.

Praying at a gravesite does not mean you are asking the dead to rise from the grave and appear before you. That is the abomination to which the Torah refers. Neither are you, God forbid, praying to the dead—a practice that is most certainly forbidden. But you are able to connect with these souls, since, when it comes to the soul, all of us are truly one.

One is simply expressing faith that the Tzadikim never really completely die, and a grave cannot prevent one from connecting to their teacher. Just as this tzaddik cared and took care of others during his lifetim—not as “others” but as he cared for his own soul—so too now, his Neshoma still can feel your pain and pray with you but this is directly to Hashem.

The Zohar tells us that the tzaddik is here with us after his passing even more than before. In life, he ignored the boundaries of “I and you,” so now he can ignore the boundaries of life and afterlife.

This is the fundamental reasoning behind beseeching those in the grave to intercede on our behalf and assist. And this, in fact, has been the common practice in Jewish communities around the world (although not all, for example Beis HoRav (Soloveitchik)  based on the view of the Gaon that all this can be achieved in other ways and not in essentially a Makom Tumah.

Rabbi Chaim Paltiel of Magdeburg (Germany, fourteenth century) a Rishon, said that the burial-place of a Tzadik is Holy. Regarding Chabad in particular, I found this comprehensive piece which is of interest

In addition, some quotes from the last Rebbe זי’ע

אלו שביקרו באהלי צדיקים יודעים שישנם “אוהלים” שמעוררים קו מרירות וכיווץ, וישנם “אוהלים” שפועלים קו השמחה ועלי’. האוהל של כ”ק מו”ח אדמו”ר הוא מסוג זה, שבהגיע לאוהל, הנה עוד טרם שמתבונן, כבר פועל עליו האוהל עלי’ והגבהת הרוח ששייכת לשמחה מפני עבודתו שעבד בה כל ימי חייו הי’ באופן כזה שקירב והרים  כל יהודי אף הבריות, בדרכי קירוב ונועם, עם הכוונה לפעול בהם גם “ומקרבן לתורה” )לקו”ש ח”ב 50

The broadly respected Chabad Halachist and Chassidic Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek. said as per the testimony of the Rayatz, the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe that:

בדרך כלל יש ה’ מדריגות, הא’ מה שמבואר
בשו”ע או”ח הל’ ט”ב וז”ל ומה שנוהגים לילך על הקברות הוא כדי לעורר האבילות ולהכניע היצה”ר ולשוב בתשובה. והב’ הוא ג”כ נזכר בשו”ע הל’ ר”ה נוהגים ילך על הקברות ולהרבות שם בתחתנונים. ושם הטעם משום דבית הקברות הוא מקום מנוחת הצדיקים, ומתוך כך הוא מקום קדוש וטהור והתפלה מתקבלת שם ביותר כו’. והג’ מה שהולכים אל מקום מנוחת אביהם וכדומה שמעורר הבכי’ והספד ועושה פתיחות הלב לגמרי עד שיוכל לבכות על חטאיו ממש ג”כ בלב נשבר ונדכה ובבכי’ רבה ויכול לבוא לידי תשובה שלימה. והמדריגה הד’ הוא מה שהולכים על קברי צדיקים שהיו יודעים ומכירים אותם בהיותם חיים אזי מצד תוקף האמונה שהי’ מאמין בו בעודו בחיים חיותו שהוא איש אלקי וכמו”כ כשהולך על מקום מנוחת קדשו מתבטל שם

This morning, before Shachris, I briefly looked this issue up in the Encyclopaedia Talmudis, a Sefer that is also quoted extensively by the last Lubavitcher Rebbe and looked well worn in his Yechidus room when I was there. Rav Zevin emphatically classes Dorshin Al HaMeisim as a clear Issur. I won’t go through it, one can look it up. It’s under the second Chelek of  Daled and is beautifully set out as per Rav Zevin’s genius.

In summary, the way I see it, you ought not only go to a grave or write a letter and “speak” to the dead. This is pagan.

Sending a letter is long distance travelling to a grave, but the wording needs to include Hashem and comply with accepted Halacha

One can either ask for help from the Tzaddik or allow oneself to be either B’Yirah or B’Simcha to the extent that they are more enthused to engage separately or together with the Tzaddik, but this must always involve Hashem.

I haven’t read this article from Hakira Journal (yet), but just found it. It seems germane.

Finally, it’s aptl to close with the beautiful and apt prose of Rabbi Jakobovitz, the former Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth:

The Emeritus Chief Rabbi, Jakobovits, in the foreword to the then new Singers Prayer Book, contemplates “The Jewish idea of prayer” and disapproves of petitional prayers. He wrote “What purpose can be served by formulating our pleas to God? Does the all-knowing God, who knows our needs better than we do, require their articulation of what we feel in our hearts? Still more difficult theologically, how can we hope by prayer to change His will? Our very belief in the efficacy of our petitions would seem to challenge God’s immutability, and (they) even question His justice, since we should assume that whatever fate He decrees for man is essentially just; why, therefore, do we seek to reverse it?” “But such questions are based on a false, indeed pagan, understanding of prayer as a means of pacifying and propitiating the deity and thus of earning its favours. It was against these perverse notions that the Hebrew Prophets directed their denunciations so fiercely when they fulminated against the heathen form of sacrifices, the original form of worship later replaced by prayer.” “Like sacrifices, prayer is intended to change man not God. Its purpose is to cultivate a contrite heart, to promote feelings of humility and inadequacy in man, whilst encouraging reliance on Divine assistance. Through prayer, the worshipper becomes chastened, gains moral strength and intensifies the quest of spirituality, thereby turning into a person worthy of response to his pleas.

Remembering Les Erdi ז’ל

Les Erdi passed away a little over a week after my father, הכ’’מ.

I knew Les Erdi as a little boy in Elwood Shule, over 40 years ago. He was different. The Shule was basically made up of Polish holocaust survivors, and he was one of a handful of Hungarians. There was and remains some antipathy between Hungarian and Polish Jews. The Poilishe Yidden were essentially snobby to the Hungarians and vice versa. In Elwood, the Poles held the upper hand. They were culturally apart. Polish Jews never spoke anything but Yiddish in Shule whereas Hungarians seemed to converse in Magyaro.

The so-called “frumer Hungarians” immigrated to Melbourne and settled in Adass and Ripponlea. The founding fathers were moderate, but their grandchildren are fundamentalist charedim, and often rabidly anti-zionist. My father complained that they wouldn’t greet him in his street, let alone say Good Shabbos. Sydney, however, absorbed the “other” Hungarians, some of whom came from traditional homes, but most of whom were more remote from practical observance. On the other hand, the Sydney variety were staunchly Zionist. I know I am generalising. There are very special exceptions.

Les was somewhat like a Sydney-style Hungarian residing in Melbourne.

Les wasn’t just a typical Hungarian, though. Until the last day I spoke to him, he presented a thick and broad Hungarian accent which seemed immovable, and like Les, refused to moderate over time. Despite being a busy businessman, Les never lost that severe Magyar twang. His wife, Eva, may she live healthily until 120, also exhibits that strong accent.

I wanted to visit Les when he became rather ill, but was advised that he didn’t want visitors. You must respect the wishes of a sick man, and so I stayed away. I also understood his reasons, knowing the man. He was a powerhouse, and that’s how he wanted to be remembered.

Yet, despite the HungarianPolish divide Les was a landsman. How so? Les was a Cohen, and as long as I can recall, when the President and Vice President of the Shule descended the Bima immediately before Bircas Cohanim, Les would walk up the stairs to the Bima and stand alongside my father, both leaning their siddurim on the little table vacated by the President and Vice president.


As a little boy, I used to sneak in between them. Les was always short, and it didn’t take long for even my modest height to exceed his. Eventually, I stood behind them both. Elwood Shule, a love of Rabbi Chaim Gutnick ז’ל, Chazan Avraham Adler ז’ל, Reb Chaim Yaffe ז’ל, the shared experience of being a survivor: all these elements cut a swathe through the cultural differences of Polish and Hungarian Mispallelim. Les and Dad הכ’’מ often had an arm around each other. They would joke together and there would always be a predictable joke about who should go up first to the Duchan (after Mr Blass, of course, who was always considered and called the “Cohen Goodoil”. Mr Blass passed away at the age of 99, and had all his faculties till the last day I visited him in hospital, just days before he passed away. His last words to me were “thank you, I will never forget you”.)

My father הכ’’מ on the left, and Mr Yisroel Tovya Blass ז’ל, the “Cohen Gadol” whose Yohr Tzeit was this week, and who came from an important Gerrer family

I was a young man, then newly married, and at that time didn’t serve as Chazan for Rosh Hashono and Yom Kippur. I was enveloped in my own davening, and would commonly daven Shmoneh Esreh on Rosh Hashono/Yom Kippur for 40 minutes or more. I was remote by nature, intentionally oblivious to the surrounding and somewhat of an intolerant “frumak”. I didn’t engage much. It could have been seen as haughtiness, but that wasn’t what it was. I recall that upon returning from learning in Yeshivah in Israel, I approached the then President, Mr Mottel Roth, and in front of others on Yom Kippur between Musaph and Mincha (much to my father’s shock and horror) asked Mr Roth how he could conceivably remain the president of an Orthodox Shule when he drove every Shabbos. I suggested Roth should resign on the spot. I was young, very black and white (perhaps more black than white), and didn’t engage my mind before my mouth.

I mellowed over time, and continue to do so. I grew to love each and every one of those “Poshei Yisroel” (“sinners”) after I came to the stark realisation that I was not ever even remotely in a position to understand their life experience. I had enjoyed a closeted, altruistic, and somewhat untroubled life full of opportunity. These Poles and Magyars eventually ceased to be Poshei Yisrael in my blinkered view. Each one of them morphed into a precious jewel, a Kadosh, a holy person. Rabbi Chaim Gutnick was right: anyone who walked into a Shule after emerging from the furnace of the Holocaust was someone about whom one should treat with awe and derive inspiration.

Over time, my sons, first Tzvi Yehuda and then Yossi, came up to Duchan with me and my father. Yossi used to stand next to his “mate” Mr Hoppe ז’ל but Tzvi Yehuda stood with me, right behind Mr Erdi and my father, הריני כפרת משכבו. Some of my more sensitive and charitable feelings rubbed off on my sons, and I’m pleased that they never developed my Charifus, and only had kind, meaningful and friendly interaction with this special brand of Jew.

Les surprised me. He would always engage in philosophical discussion. He knew I was an academic and that I was religious, and loved to lecture me that he had a unique one on one relationship with God. He felt privileged and blessed that he had survived, and wore the responsibility to proudly behave like a Mench in keeping with the (obviously traditional religious) education he had received in Hungary. Les truly believed that he had a personal and unique dialogue with God, and that any success he enjoyed was because of his partnership. His partner was God! Yet, despite these clearly religious undertones, he wasn’t what you’d call a dramatically practicing Jew.

Who can forget when Les’s loving wife Eva was seriously ill. Les was due to receive an Aliyah as Cohen on Rosh Hashono so that he could make a special Misheberach for her. Les was late. We had just put away the Torah. Panting, he ran to Rabbi Mottel Gutnick, and asked if there was a way to still make a Misheberach for Eva. Of course there was a way, and we readily obliged. Les was relieved. Despite wondering why God had hidden his countenance during the Holocaust and failed to personally interfere with the Nazi scourge, Les knew that God was now with him, and that God still had a say over his wife’s health, and not just his own business success.

We don’t need to extol Les’s incredible sense of charity. If he believed in a cause or a venture, he was there. He had deep pockets, and was acutely aware that he had to leave a legacy and make a difference.

I noticed a strange array of people at his Shloshim, and it was suddenly clear to me, that Les must have supported some of their causes. He took a micro interest in every aspect of his Tzedaka projects. He wasn’t simply an observer who wrote out a cheque for the inevitable plaque or honour. He had a keen and ongoing interest in what transpired and was achieved.

Les was a mench. I am sure this came from his home, parents and education. His desire as a survivor was to have an honest relationship with God. Les felt he has been spared, and must have been spared for good reasons.

In one of his early business ventures as a migrant, Les manufactured suits together with his then partner. Managing to lay the golden goose, Les procured an order for those suits from the coveted “Myers” company. I remember my father also gloating when he got orders from Myers. It was always seen as a major achievement: the competition was ferocious amongst the Shmatte industry. The Myers family was an older pre-war Jewish family.

Les visited the Myers store and noticed that the suits he had supplied didn’t contain the requisite component of wool that he had promised as part of the order. Les apologised to Mr Myers, and offered to replace the suits. Mr Myers responded that the suits were just fine, and that he had already sold most of the stock, and that he was sure that Les’s next batch of suits would have the correct wool content. Les argued. He was not averse to arguing. and said that he had not done the right thing, and would like to reimburse Myers for the difference. Mr Myers again dismissed Les’s entreaties, and suggested Les forget it.

Les was not one to take no for an answer—ever. Returning to his partner, Les suggested that they pay Myers the difference. Les’s partner was taken aback, arguing that the buyer was Mochel (happy to forgo the difference) and there was no good reason to pay money for “nothing”. Les did not react kindly to this suggestion and promptly dissolved the partnership, and paid Myers the outstanding amount. I’m told that Les then went on to succeed and his ex-partner languished in comparison.

Who would behave with such moral virtue? Even more: in those days, when every cent counted, as new migrants tried to rebuild their lives, who would have blamed someone for not returning the money? Les Erdi was a bastion of charity and business ethics who refused to adopt a lesser ethic, irrespective of his circumstance.

I found it difficult to engage Les meaningfully in our philosophical discussions. This was not because I was stuck for words. Rather, with Les, one couldn’t get a word in edge-wise. Furthermore, Les “just knew”—everything. He was sure that his relationship with God was something special and his job was to tell people about it, and not to ask for their comments or critique.

As a benefactor to Elwood, Les and Eva were notably giving but I think the aspect I will miss the most is that heavenly scene on Kol Nidrei night.

I customarily stand nervously and with trepidation on the middle of the Bima, ready to intone the ancient “Al Daas HaMakom”. Before that happens the elderly Cohanim are given the honour of each taking a Sefer Torah up to the said Bimah, standing on my left and right. As they got even older, I was careful to make sure that people like Les and my father הכ’’מ were always close enough so that they could lean on the Bima with their Toras, given their now waning strength. Alas, this year, neither Les nor my father will be near me in that physical sense. There will be a palpable vacuüm. I don’t want to think about it now.

Les didn’t have a good voice, but I can still hear him accompanying me to “Venislach Lechol Adass, B’Nei Yisroel” in the time-old Nusach of my teacher Chazan Adler, albeit with that distinctive Hungarian accent.

It won’t be easy. May he be a מליץ טוב for all of us.

Nazi Goebbels’ Step-Grandchildren Are Hidden Billionaires

[Hat tip to Ezra]

This article is from Bloombergs. There has been a traditional antipathy towards driving German cars. My father הכ’’מ used to drive one in Berlin immediately after the Holocaust.

My father post war in his convertible Mercedes.
My father post war in his convertible Mercedes.

I asked him why and he said

Because they are my כפרה. They destroyed my youth, I decided that I would דווקא enjoy the best that they had to offer.

I understood this to be “dancing on the grave of the person who tried to murder you”. That was soon after the war. Feelings were mixed and the psyche was scarred. Yet, once in Melbourne, he wouldn’t dream of driving a German car. He always admired “Daatchishe” technology and had no problem buying devices they made. Those devices, however, weren’t “in your face” and were used at home.

It wasn’t for me to make value judgements about his choice. I hadn’t gone through what he had  and perhaps, in time, a public embracement through the aegis of a fancy car was not something that neither he, nor most survivors, were ready to make. Yet, there were and are children of holocaust survivors who bought fancy German cars and drove these cars while their parents were alive. I’ve never understood that attitude. If your parents lived through it and don’t do it, even if they are somewhat inconsistent by purchasing private goods of German origin, why would one feel so “obligated” to דווקא drive a car that their parents wouldn’t dream of driving. Even if my father had given me permission to do so (not that I could ever afford a fancy car) I wouldn’t do it while he was not doing the same. After all, there are alternatives.

Ironically, we now have the expose below about BMW. I’d imagine some Jewish BMW owners are now squirming in their warm leather seats.

Harald Quandt, Magda Goebbels’ son by her first marriage, center back stands in uniform with his step-father Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, bottom from right, his mother Magda, third from left, and the couple’s children, Helga, Hildegard, Helmut, Hedwig, Holdine and Heidrun in 1942. Photograph: Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In the spring of 1945, Harald Quandt, a 23-year-old officer in the German Luftwaffe, was being held as a prisoner of war by Allied forces in the Libyan port city of Benghazi when he received a farewell letter from his mother, Magda Goebbels — the wife of Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels.

The hand-written note confirmed the devastating news he had heard weeks earlier: His mother had committed suicide with her husband on May 1, after slipping their six children cyanide capsules in Adolf Hitler’s underground bunker in Berlin.

“My dear son! By now we’ve been in the Fuehrerbunker for six days already, Daddy, your six little siblings and I, to give our national socialistic lives the only possible, honorable ending,” she wrote. “Harald, dear son, I want to give you what I learned in life: Be loyal! Loyal to yourself, loyal to the people and loyal to your country!”

Quandt was released from captivity in 1947. Seven years later, he and his half-brother Herbert — Harald was the only remaining child from Magda Goebbels’ first marriage — would inherit the industrial empire built by their father, Guenther Quandt, which had produced Mauser firearms and anti-aircraft missiles for the Third Reich’s war machine. Among their most valuable assets at the time was a stake in car manufacturer Daimler AG. (DAI) They bought a part of Bayerische Motoren Werke AG (BMW) a few years later.

Lower Profile

While the half-brothers passed away decades ago, their legacy has endured. Herbert’s widow, Johanna Quandt, 86, and their children Susanne Klatten and Stefan Quandt, have remained in the public eye as BMW’s dominant shareholders. The billionaire daughters of Harald Quandt — Katarina Geller-Herr, 61, Gabriele Quandt, 60, Anette-Angelika May-Thies, 58, and 50-year-old Colleen-Bettina Rosenblat-Mo — have kept a lower profile.

The four sisters inherited about 1.5 billion deutsche marks ($760 million) after the death of their mother, Inge, in 1978, according to the family’s sanctioned biography, “Die Quandts.” They manage their wealth through the Harald Quandt Holding GmbH, a Bad Homburg, Germany-based family investment company and trust named after their father. Fritz Becker, the chief executive officer of the family entities, said the siblings realized average annual returns above 7 percent from its founding in 1981 through 1996. Since then, the returns have averaged 7.6 percent.

“The family wants to stay private and that is an acceptable situation for me,” said Becker in an interview at his Bad Homburg office. “We invest our money globally and if it’s $1 billion, $500 million or $3 billion, who cares?”

Wartime Profits

Together, the four sisters — and the two children of a deceased sibling — share a fortune worth at least $6 billion, giving each of them a net worth of $1.2 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. They have never appeared individually as billionaires on an international wealth ranking.

See the new interactive Bloomberg Billionaires Index

Becker declined to provide the exact figure the holding manages for the four sisters. The siblings declined to comment for this account, said Ralf-Dieter Brunowsky, a spokesman for the family investment company, in an e-mail. He said the net worth calculation was “too high,” declining to be more specific.

The rise of the Quandt family fortune shares the same trajectory as Germany’s quest for global domination in the 20th century. It began in 1883, when Emil Quandt acquired a textile company owned by his late father-in-law. At the turn of the century, Emil passed the business to his eldest son, Guenther.

The younger Quandt saw an opportunity with the onset of war in 1914. His factories, already one of the biggest clothing manufacturers for the German state, quadrupled their weekly uniform production for the army, according to “Die Quandts.”

Weapons Production

After Germany’s surrender four years later, Quandt put the company’s wartime profits to use. In 1922, he bought a majority stake in Accumulatoren-Fabrik AG (AFA), a Hagen-based battery manufacturer. Six years later, he took over Berlin-Karlsruher Industriewerken AG (BKIW), a Berlin-based manufacturer that made sewing machines and silverware. The factory, once one of Germany’s largest weapon producers, had been forced to retool as part of the country’s disarmament agreement.

“The Quandts’ business grew in the Kaiserreich, it grew during the Weimar Republic, it grew during the Second World War and it grew strongly after the war,” Rudiger Jungbluth, author of “Die Quandts,” said in an interview at a Bavarian restaurant in Hamburg last November.

Nazi Connections

In 1918, Guenther Quandt’s first wife died of the Spanish flu, leaving him a widower with two young sons, Hellmut and Herbert. He married Magda Ritschel in 1921, and the couple’s only son, Harald, was born later that year. Hellmut died in 1927, from complications related to appendicitis.

Quandt and Magda divorced in 1929. Two years later, she married Joseph Goebbels, a member of the German parliament who also held a doctorate degree in drama and served as head of propaganda for Germany’s growing Nazi party. After the Nazis took power in 1933, their leader, Adolf Hitler, appointed Goebbels as the Third Reich’s propaganda minister. Hitler was the best man at the couple’s wedding.

Guenther Quandt joined the party that same year. His factories became key suppliers to the German war effort, even though his relationship with Goebbels had become increasingly strained.

“There was constant rivalry,” said Bonn-based history professor Joachim Scholtyseck, author of a family-commissioned study about their involvement with the Third Reich, in a telephone interview. “It didn’t matter that Goebbels didn’t like him. It didn’t have any influence on Quandt’s ability to make money.”

Forced Labor

In 1937, he earned the title of Wehrwirtschaftsfuehrer, the name given to members of an elite group of businessmen who were deemed beneficial to the production of war materials for the Third Reich. During the war, Quandt’s AFA manufactured batteries for U-Boat submarines and V-2 rocket launchers. His BKIW –which had been renamed Deutsche Waffen-und Munitionsfabriken AG in 1936 — produced Mauser firearms, ammunition and anti-aircraft missiles.

“He was one of the leading industrialists in the Third Reich and the Second World War,” Scholtyseck said. “He always kept a very low profile.”

From 1940 to 1945, the Quandt family factories were staffed with more than 50,000 forced civilian laborers, prisoners of war and concentration camp workers, according to Scholtyseck’s 1,183-page study. The report was commissioned by the family in 2007 after German television aired the documentary “The Silence of the Quandts,” a critical look at their wartime activities.

Released in September 2011, the study also found that Quandt appropriated assets from Jewish company owners and that his son Herbert had planned building an AFA factory in which slave laborers would be deployed.

Army Volunteer

“Guenther Quandt didn’t have a Nazi-kind of thinking,” said Jungbluth, the family biographer. “He was looking for any opportunity to expand his personal empire.”

Quandt’s youngest son, Harald, lived with his mother, Goebbels and six half-siblings. In 1939, he joined the German army after the country’s invasion of Poland, volunteering for the army’s paratrooper unit one year later.

During the war, Harald was deployed in Greece, France and Russia, before being shot and captured in Italy in 1944, and taken to the British Army-run POW camp in Benghazi where he received his mother’s farewell letter.

His stepfather also sent him a goodbye note.

“It’s likely that you’ll be the only one to remain who can continue the tradition of our family,” wrote Goebbels, who served as Chancellor of Germany for one day following Hitler’s suicide on April 30, 1945.

Denazification Hearings

After the war, Guenther Quandt served in an internment camp in Moosburg an der Isar for more than a year, before being judged a “Mitlaeufer” — a Nazi follower who wasn’t formally involved in the regime’s crimes — in denazification hearings in 1948. No repercussions followed.

“He was lucky that he wasn’t as prominent as someone like Flick or Krupp,” said Scholtyseck, referring to the German industrialists Friedrich Flick and Alfried Krupp, who were sentenced to prison terms at the Nuremberg war crimes trials.

Guenther died in 1954 while vacationing in Cairo, leaving his business empire equally in the hands of his two surviving sons, Harald and Herbert. Most notably, the assets included ownership of AFA and Deutsche Waffen-und Munitionsfabriken — renamed Industrie-Werke Karlsruhe AG after the war — and stakes in Daimler-Benz and potash miner Wintershall AG.

Sovereign Wealth

Herbert managed the stakes in the battery, car and potash firm, while Harald oversaw the interests in the industrial companies, according to Jungbluth’s biography.

Over the next decade, the brothers increased their stake in Daimler; Herbert saved BMW from collapse in the 1960s after becoming its largest shareholder and backing the development of new models.

Harald died in 1967, at age 45, in an airplane crash outside Turin, Italy. The relationship between his widow, Inge, and Herbert deteriorated after his death. Negotiations to settle the estate by separating assets commenced in 1970.

The most valuable asset that the Harald Quandt heirs received was four-fifths of a 14 percent stake in Daimler, according to the biography. In 1974, the entire stake was sold to the Kuwait Investment Authority, the country’s sovereign wealth fund, for about 1 billion deutsche marks, according to a Daimler-Benz publication from 1986 celebrating its centennial.

Inge Quandt, who suffered from depression, died of a heart attack on Christmas Eve 1978. Her new husband, Hans-Hilman von Halem, shot himself in the head two days later. The five orphaned daughters, two of them teenagers, were left to split the family fortune.

Family Meetings

The estate’s trustees had started overseeing the daughters’ money in 1974. An active investment approach commenced with the founding of the family investment company in 1981.

“It’s different if you work for a family than a corporation,” said Becker. “You can really invest instead of fulfilling regulation requirements.”

According to “Die Quandts,” the siblings try to get together a few times a year to discuss their investments. Gabriele Quandt lives in Munich. After earning a master’s degree in business administration at Insead in Fontainebleau, France, she married German publishing heir Florian Langenscheidt, with whom she had two sons. The couple divorced in 2008.

Katarina Geller-Herr owns Gestuet Waeldershausen, an equestrian center in Homberg (Ohm), Germany. She sponsored Lars Nieberg, a two-time Olympic gold medalist in show jumping.

Jewish Conversion

Colleen-Bettina Rosenblat-Mo is a jewelry designer who runs a studio and showroom in Hamburg. She converted to Judaism in New York at age 24. Her first marriage was to Michael Rosenblat, a German-Jewish businessman, whose father survived a concentration camp. The couple divorced in 1997. She remarried Frode Mo, a Norwegian journalist.

“We live with both religions and also celebrate Christmas,” Rosenblat-Mo said in “Die Quandts.”

Anette-Angelika May-Thies lives in Hamburg, according to the Harald Quandt Holding shareholders list filed with the German federal trade registry. Her first marriage was to Axel May, a Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) international adviser for private banking, who managed the family’s investments for about 25 years.

The siblings are also majority owners and investors in five financial services companies, all of which pay dividends, according to Becker. The firms were founded to manage the sisters’ wealth and subsequently opened up to third parties.

Private Equity

The six companies combined manage $18 billion in assets, according to the family investment company’s website. Becker said the majority of the money controlled by these firms is invested for third parties. One-fifth of the family fortune is managed by trustees for the two children of the youngest Quandt sibling, Patricia Halterman, who died in July 2005, four days before turning 38. Her townhouse on the Upper East Side of New York City sold for $37.5 million in 2008.

Auda International LP serves as the sisters’ New York-based private-equity unit. It manages almost $5 billion and was founded as their U.S. office in 1989, said Becker. Real Estate Capital Partners LP started the same year and has invested about $9 billion in real estate, according to its website. Both companies are owned through HQFS LP, an offshore entity based in the Cayman Islands.

Family Fortunes

In Bad Homburg, HQ Trust GmbH serves as a investment management company for about 30 families with fortunes ranging from 50 million euros to 500 million euros. Equita Management GmbH invests in small and mid-cap companies in Austria, Switzerland and Germany. HQ Advisor GmbH provides accounting and controlling services.

Only one sister, Gabriele, carries the family name, and none are active in the day-to-day business of the family office, said Becker.

Their uncle, Herbert Quandt, died in 1982. His fortune was divided between six children from three different marriages. BMW, his most valuable asset, was inherited by his third wife Johanna Quandt and their children, Stefan Quandt, 46, and Susanne Klatten, 50. The three billionaires hold 46.7 percent of the Munich-based car producer, according to the company’s 2011 annual report.

After Scholtyseck’s study was published in 2011, cousins Gabriele and Stefan Quandt acknowledged their family’s ties and involvement with the Third Reich in an interview with Germany’s Die Zeit newspaper.

‘Sad Truth’

“Magda killed her six children in the Fuehrerbunker. Our father loved his half-siblings very much. And when, like me, you have something like this in your family history, you think: It can’t be any worse,” Gabriele Quandt said in the interview. “It’s a sad truth that forced laborers died in Quandt companies,” said Stefan.

The acknowledgment didn’t prompt a public distancing from the men that made their family Germany’s richest. The families’ offices in Bad Homburg are named after Guenther and Harald Quandt, and the Herbert Quandt media prize of 50,000 euros is awarded annually to German journalists.

“They have to live with the name. It’s part of the history,” said Scholtyseck. “It will be a constant reminder of dictatorship and the challenges that families have to face.”

To contact the reporter on this story: David De Jong in New York at ddejong3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Matthew G. Miller at mmiller144@bloomberg.net


If you look at my about page, you will notice that on my father’s side הכ’’מ we have links to Amshinov, and on my mother’s side תבלח’’א we have links to Brisk. It’s also no secret that I’m a fan of the Rav.

My son pointed out that the day of my father’s הכ’’מ Yohr Tzeit ג שבט coincides with the Yohr Tzeit of the 3rd Amshinover Rebbe, R’ Yosef, ז’ל (a great-grandson of R’ Yitchok Wurke) from Ostrov Mazowiecka. By chance, I “stumbled” on the additional fact that it was also the same day as R’ Moshe Soloveitchik ז’ל, the eldest son of R’ Chaim Brisker and father of the Rav (and whose wife was a cousin of R’ Moshe Feinstein ז’ל).

R’ Moshe Soloveitchik ז’ל
The 3rd Rebbe of Amshinov, R' Yosef of Kalish, ז’ל
The 3rd Rebbe of Amshinov, R’ Yosef of Kalish, ז’ל

The circle of life

Some of my readers will be wondering if my thought processes have dried up over the last few weeks. They haven’t. My father, הכ’’מ passed away on the 3rd of Shvat, and I’ve obviously been under a non-self imposed emotional embargo and an halachic odyssey with הלכות אבילות (may nobody ever have to study this). I will resume soon, as soon as I catch up with life’s backlog.


My father and I, at the Bris of his first Great Grandson.
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