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Israel Family Collection

Identifier: AR 25140

Scope and Content Note

This collection describes the history and fortunes of the members of the Israel family of Berlin, particularly during the 1930s. A main topic of this collection is the Kaufhaus N. Israel, the Israel family's department store. In addition, documents detailing the family's efforts to receive restitution for this property and others will be found among the papers in this collection. Finally, the collection also contains copies of Israel family members' papers, information on family history, and family trees.

Documents pertaining to the N. Israel department store will largely be found in Series III. Some of these papers include publications by the store itself, such as anniversary albums and publicity advertisements. Series III also contains clippings from the Nazi newspaper Der Stürmer advising Germans not to shop at Kaufhaus N. Israel. Photos of the interior of the building along with an inventory of fixtures in the store is also part of this series.

Restitution for the Israel family's loss of the N. Israel department store and other properties is the most well-represented topic of this collection. Documents on this topic, consisting almost entirely of correspondence and forms, will be found in Series IV.

Finally, this collection also features material on the history and genealogy of various members of the Israel family, as well as their papers. Series I is concerned with the history of the Israel family and holds copies of family trees. Series II is made up of papers belonging to various members of the family. Included among these documents is an album holding photocopies of government documents belonging to family ancestors. In addition, Series II also holds correspondence of Wilfrid Israel with friends in Bombay, Israel.

The Israel Family Collection is made up of four collections, each from a separate donation with its own collection number. These collection numbers are referenced in folder titles. The arrangement in this finding aid refers to the intellectual arrangement of the collection's contents rather than the physical arrangement of folders.


  • Creation: 1814-1996
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1938-1991


Language of Materials

The collection is in German and English.

Access Restrictions

Open to researchers.

Use Restrictions

There may be some restrictions on the use of the collection. For more information, contact:

Leo Baeck Institute, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY 10011


Biographical Note

The House of Israel was started in 1815 by Nathan Israel at the Molkenmarkt in Berlin, as a small second-hand store that soon developed into a world-renowned wholesale, retail, and export business which occupied a unique position in Germany. The firm was known for the high standard of its interiors, as well as the highly trained staff. In 1925, Kaufhaus N. Israel started its own business school whose exams were recognized by the state. From 1915 until 1935, the sole owners after Nathan Israel were his son Jakob and later his grandson Berthold. After Berthold Israel's death, the firm was owned by his two sons, Wilfrid and Herbert, for a total of four generations of ownership.

In addition to its retail business, the firm was engaged in supplying hospitals, hotels, theaters, military establishments, and other public and private concerns. In 1888, at the death of Emperor Wilhelm I, the firm supplied the entire funeral decorations for all the streets through which the funeral procession passed. The firm worked only with its own capital, relying upon neither credits nor mortgages, and became an important member in financial circles. This practice served the firm well in 1933 after the Nazis came to power as they were able to continue to operate without pressure to aryanize by German financial institutions. The firm was a member of the Berlin stock exchange until the Nazi era.

Berthold Israel was especially concerned with the welfare of his employees, who numbered 2,000 in 1925. In 1895, in memory of Jakob Israel, the firm founded the employee, widows' and orphans' pension fund with 250,000 RM, a considerable amount at that time. In addition, the firm had a matching fund program, which at that time was rather unusual. After the aryanization of the firm, neither the obligations of the pension fund nor the matching fund were fulfilled. The firm published an annual album on various topics such as Die Frau und die Welt 1910, a book on the position of women in politics, art, beauty, fashion, theater and in unusual professions such as a lady in St. Petersburg who supplied "wailing wives and mourners for funerals."

On April 1, 1933, N. Israel was boycotted, as were most Jewish establishments, with Nazis in uniform planted in front of the store carrying signs intimidating Germans from visiting the store. In 1938, the firm was sold to Emil Köster AG, and in 1939 the aryanization of the House of Israel was completed and the firm reopened as Das Haus im Zentrum.

Following the takeover of the N. Israel store, Wilfrid and his brother Herbert emigrated. Wilfrid, who was born in England, had a small research assignment at the University of Balliol College. From this position, he tried to establish contacts between the German underground opposition forces through Adam von Trott, a personal friend of his and Sir Stafford Cripps, Britain's foreign minister. He was also instrumental in organizing ship transports for Jewish children out of occupied Europe. Wilfrid Israel died, together with the actor Leslie Howard, on one of his missions when his civilian plane was shot down between Lisbon and London. This plane was sent as a decoy so that the plane carrying Winston Churchill could land safely.

Herbert Israel emigrated to the United States as did their mother, Amy Israel. After the war, the accounting firm of Richard M. Henschke undertook the filing of restitution claims. Only minimal reparations were paid as the main properties were in East Germany. Only after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reconstruction phase in Germany did the heirs begin to receive any sizable compensation.


1 Linear Feet


This collection describes the history of the Israel Family of Berlin as well as their firm, the Kaufhaus N. Israel. Material on the N. Israel store includes publications, clippings, photographs, and correspondence concerning restitution for its loss. In addition, this collection also holds family papers, documents pertaining to family history, and family trees.

Other Finding Aid

This collection is made up of four separate collections, each with their own collection number. One of these collections (AR 4790) has its own paper finding aid. These collections have been brought together and the intellectual content described in this finding aid.

The physical arrangement of items in this collection, however, differs from that of the intellectual arrangement of materials in this collection. Items in this collection are in the following physical order:

  1. 1/1 Wilfrid Israel AR 187
  2. 1/2 Israel Sons AR 783
  3. 1/3 Inventory AR 4790
  4. 1/4 I. Family History AR 4790
  5. 1/5 II. Family Trees AR 4790
  6. 1/6 III. N. Israel Department Store AR 4790
  7. 1/7 IV. Adler Family AR 4790
  8. 1/8 V. Addenda 1 (Urkundliches über die Vorfahren N. Israels aus dem Preussischen Geheimen Staatsarchiv) AR 4790
  9. 1/9a V. Addenda 2-4 (Family Documents) AR 4790
  10. 1/9b V. Addenda 5 (Family Trees) AR 4790
  11. 1/9c V. Addenda 6 (Kaufhaus N. Israel) AR 4790
  12. 1/9d V. Addenda 7 (Fraenkel, Veit, and Riess families) AR 4790
  13. 1/10 House of N. Israel documents AR 25140
  14. 1/11 Amy Israel AR 25140
  15. 1/12 Wilfrid Israel AR 25140
  16. 1/13 Herbert Israel AR 25140
  17. 1/14 John Lewinsky AR 25140
  18. 1/15 Vivian Prins AR 25140
  19. 1/16 Bertha Heilbut AR 25140
  20. 1/17 Foreign Claims Commission Correspondence - Vivian Prins and Bertha Heilbut AR 25140
  21. 1/18 Otto Heilbut AR 25140
  22. 1/19 Richard M.A. Henschke AR 25140
  23. 1/20 Newspaper clippings – German property AR 25140
  24. 1/21 Inventory and Photos of the N. Israel Store Fixtures AR 25140
  25. 1/22 Miscellaneous (Notes and Drafts Regarding Restitution and Damages) AR 25140

Separated Material

Photographs have been removed to the LBI Photo Collection.

Guide to the Papers of the Israel Family 1814-1996 AR 25140
Processed by Marianne Salinger and Ilse Turnheim
© 2005
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Description is in English.
Edition statement
This version was derived from IsraelFamily.xml

Revision Statements

  • 2010-03-23 : encoding of linking to digital objects from finding aid was changed from <extref> to <dao> through dao_conv.xsl

Repository Details

Part of the Leo Baeck Institute Repository

15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States