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Nazis Took A Jewish Family’s 16th-Century Kettle But Their Grandson Got It Back 86 Years Later

After 86 years, a Jewish family’s 16th-century kettle is finally where it belongs.

On Oct. 11, Martin Goldsmith posted an extraordinary story about his family on Facebook, beginning with inexplicable horrors and ending with a beautiful gesture.

Goldsmith starts off the post with some background on his family and their success:

“My grandfather Alex Goldschmidt operated a very successful women’s clothing store in Oldenburg, a mid-sized city in northwest Germany. He was awarded the Iron Cross, First Class, for his service to his country during World War One. Upon his return from the front, his store – called the Haus der Mode, or House of Fashion – did so well that, in 1919, Alex was able to purchase a large and beautiful house that had recently been owned by a member of the court of the Duke of Oldenburg. All was well with him and his family – my grandmother, my father, my two aunts, and my uncle – until 1932. Business boomed and the lovely house on Gartenstrasse was filled with paintings, sculptures, and many other objets d’art that spoke to my family’s success, civilization, and good fortune.

But it all changed in an instant. In October of 1932 the State of Oldenburg became the first in Germany to elect leaders of the National Socialist Party, an event that presaged Adolf Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor of Germany three months later. In November of ’32, two Nazi officials knocked on the door of my grandfather’s house and informed him that, as it was not right for a Jew to own such a fine domicile, it must be sold at once. Though the house was easily worth a million dollars or more, the price my family received for it was 26,000 Deutsch marks, or approximately $10,400.”

Unfortunately, we all know the horrors that happened next when Hitler assumed chancellorship and the Nazi party rose to power. On Nov. 9, 1938, Alex Goldschmidt was arrested during “Kristallnacht,” sent to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp and released a month later with an ultimatum that he had to leave the country within six months. The family had an opportunity to flee, but tragedy struck.

“He and his younger son, my Uncle Helmut, attempted to flee the country for Cuba in May of ’39, but the ship on which they sailed was the infamous refugee ship ‘St. Louis,’ which was turned away from Cuba, the United States, and Canada, and returned to Europe. Three years later, in August of 1942, Alex and Helmut were murdered in Auschwitz. Two months after that, my grandmother Toni and my aunt Eva were murdered in a forest outside Riga, Latvia,” Goldsmith writes in the post.

The Goldschmidt legacy, however, lives on through one of their beautiful pieces from their art collection: a 16th century Lavabokessel, a small kettle or cauldron made of brass, bronze, and iron. Previously housed in a museum, Goldsmith learned via email that the piece was confiscated by Nazis.

“Back in April, as the pandemic descended over the globe, I received an email from a Dr. Markus Kenzler of the State Museum of Art and Cultural History in my father’s hometown of Oldenburg. He informed me that the Goldschmidts’ Lavabokessel had essentially been confiscated by the Nazis; the cauldron, currently valued at between 2,000 and 3,000 Euros, was “sold” by Toni Goldschmidt to the local Gauleiter for the princely sum of 20 Reichmarks, or roughly $11 in U.S. currency at the time.

But the Museum has been doing its best to return looted Nazi art to its families, and somehow Dr. Kenzler had managed to trace the cauldron to me, the only living relative of Alex and Toni. And after months of verification and international red tape, the kettle/cauldron arrived in Maryland yesterday and is settling into its new/old home.”

Read Goldsmith’s entire Facebook post here.

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Written by Lindsay Patton