Study on the history of the Hertie department stores group under National Socialism

Strengthening Democracy

• Study published by the Business History Association (GUG)
• Responsibility of the Hertie Foundation in view of the "Aryanisation" of the Hermann Tietz department stores' group

With the book Persecuted, “Aryanized,” Compensated? How the Department Store Group Hermann Tietz Became Hertie, Professors Johannes Bähr and Ingo Köhler present an academic-historical study on the "Aryanization" of the Hermann Tietz department stores' group during the Nazi era and the restitution process in the post-war years. The study was commissioned by the Hertie Foundation and co-financed and supported by the Karg'sche Familienstiftung. The authors will present the results in a book launch on 5 December 2023 at the Jewish Museum Frankfurt. The study will be available in bookshops from 6 December.

The Hermann Tietz family group was one of the pioneers of the German department stores' industry at the beginning of the 20th century. After the National Socialist takeover, the Jewish owner family was forced out of the company by a banking consortium and Hermann Tietz became Hertie. The company's long-standing purchasing manager and later initiator of the non-profit Hertie Foundation, Georg Karg, initially became managing director under the control of the banks. From 1937, he gradually took over the shares of Hertie. After the war, he rebuilt the destroyed company and turned it into one of the most successful department stores' chains of the post-war period.

For a long time, the troubled past of this major department stores' brand of the West German Wirtschaftswunder (economic miracle) lay in the dark. In their study, Johannes Bähr and Ingo Köhler shed light on the anti-Semitic agitation against the owners of the Hermann Tietz Group, the Tietz and Zwillenberg families, the "Aryanization" of their company assets and the fate of both families after their ousting from the company. They also investigated the development of the Hertie Group up to the disputes over restitution and compensation in the immediate post-war years. Drawing on a wide range of sources, including previously inaccessible documents, a detailed picture emerges of a department store history caught between the poles of persecution, loss and responsibility.

The board of the Hertie Foundation commissioned the GUG with the study in November 2020 and contractually agreed with it on academic freedom and independence as well as the publication of the results.

Key findings of the study

The Tietz/Zwillenberg family was quickly forced out of their department stores group after the Nazis came to power. Their departure from Hermann Tietz OHG, which included over 30 group companies, is considered one of the largest "Aryanizations" of the early years of the Nazi regime. The study shows how the owner family came under pressure from the particularly radical anti-Semitic hostility in the department stores' sector in 1933 and was forced to hand over the group in a settlement agreement dated August 1934. The high losses suffered by the family are also explained. Contrary to what was later claimed, there can be no question of "fair treatment".

The Hermann Tietz company was taken over by Hertie Kaufhaus-Beteiligungs GmbH, which had been founded by banks specifically for this purpose, and continued under the name Hertie Waren- und Kaufhaus GmbH. Hertie managing director Georg Karg profited from the "Aryanization" as a secondary purchaser, as he was able to buy the company's shares from the banks from 1937. The study describes for the first time how he managed to do this, and how he also took over small department stores from Jewish ownership.

The Tietz and Zwillenberg families parted ways when they emigrated. The Tietz family emigrated to Switzerland in 1937 and later on to Cuba and the USA. Hugo Zwillenberg was imprisoned in a concentration camp in 1938, but was then able to flee to the Netherlands with his wife and children, where the family narrowly escaped deportation in 1943. Most of the assets that remained in Germany were confiscated from the Tietz and Zwillenberg families by the authorities of the Nazi state.

The study is not limited to the "Aryanization case" alone, but also includes the restitution proceedings in the post-war period in order to complete the historical picture. Hertie initially disputed the claims of the Tietz and Zwillenberg families but, like them, was interested in a swift settlement of the claims in order to achieve legal certainty for the restart of the group. In October 1949, both sides agreed on a settlement that contained unusual provisions. Three department stores were transferred back and subsequently leased to Hertie with the owners sharing in the turnover. Both sides remained commercially linked until the early 1970s. The study provides an in-depth insight into this previously unknown history of encounters between the former profiteer Karg and the victims of anti-Jewish repression. Regardless of all legal and financial agreements, Hertie's greatest shortcoming in its dealings with the persecuted remained the lack of realization that it was morally responsible for the injustice. This failure persisted beyond the end of the Hertie Group in 1993.

Responsibility of the Hertie Foundation

"We would like to express our sincere thanks to the GUG for its work," says Frank-Jürgen Weise, Chairman of the Board of the Hertie Foundation: "It is clear how our founder profited entrepreneurially from the effects of the politically initiated "Aryanisation process." Karg also showed himself to be a sober businessman when it came to restitution; moral aspects were not taken into account, which is disturbing from today's perspective." Weise adds: "The Hertie Foundation emerged from entrepreneurial success in the post-war period, but Georg Karg laid the foundations for this earlier. That is why our responsibility includes not only analyzing and publishing these findings, but also recognizing the injustice done to the Tietz family and preserving their memory. We will deal with the results openly and transparently and, as a democracy foundation, will continue to use our legacy to promote the protection of Jewish life in Germany and combat anti-Semitism."

About the authors

Johannes Bähr, born in 1956, studied history and political science in Freiburg i. Br. and Munich. He was awarded his doctorate in 1986 and habilitated at the Free University of Berlin in 1998. Today he teaches as an adjunct professor of economic and social history at Goethe University Frankfurt am Main.

Ingo Köhler, born in 1971, studied history and literature in Bielefeld. He obtained his doctorate in 2003 at the Ruhr University Bochum and habilitated at the Georg-August University Göttingen in 2012. Since 2021, he has been Managing Director of the Hessian Economic Archive in Darmstadt and teaches as an adjunct professor of economic and social history.

A summary of the study results is available at

Press contact:

Hertie Foundation, Julia Ihmels, Communications Department, Mail: |Tel. 069 660756 162

Business History Association, Dr Andrea Schneider-Braunberger, Mail: | Tel. 069 97203 315

About the Business History Association (GUG)

The GUG is an internationally recognized academic institution specializing in business history research. Founded in 1976, it connects researchers, archives, and companies and creates space for academic discussion in the form of symposia, working groups, and workshops. In addition, GUG communicates historical content to an interested public and offers special programs for university and high school students. For decades, GUG has been carrying out research projects of varying scope and on various topics with recognized experts.