As the new year is upon us, it is now the season, or at least the trend, to make resolutions for our lives moving forward. For most of us, that simply means putting a new diet in place or vowing to save more for your future.
However, for some, it means making amends for past wrongs, even if they are not your own.
Take the case of Thomas Edelmann, for example.
As a German citizen, Edelmann has the unfortunate, although not uncommon, knowledge that his forefathers were Nazis. But rather than let that be a detriment, he has used it as a teachable moment for himself and his family.
In pursuit of finding out more about his family history and genealogy, Edelmann discovered that his grandfather, Wilhelm Edelmann, had purchased a hardware shop in 1938 in the small southern German town of Bad Mergentheim. But the sale was less than ideal. While the elder Edelmann had gotten a relatively good deal on the business’s purchase, it was to the detriment of its previous owner, a Jew named Benjamin Heidelberger.
According to Nazi imposed Nuremberg Laws, it became illegal in those days for Jewish people to own businesses in Germany, and so Heidelberger was forced to sell his family’s store.
Heidelberger, who kept a diary, according to CNN, wrote, “In July 1938, we sold our shop and warehouse for the bargain price of 28,500 Reichsmark, the same sum for which I had bought it 30 years earlier. Under different circumstances, I could have sold it for 40,000. But back then many Jewish businesses in Bad Mergentheim were sold under value.”
Naturally, Edelmann felt awful that his family had been part of such a life-changing and disastrous turn of events for the Heidelberger family. And so he sought out more information in the hopes that he could somehow make amends for his family’s wrongdoing.
Now, Edelmann, as his parents had divorced in the 1970s, lost touch with his father and so the family business, leaving him no way of getting any remaining members of the Heidelberger family compensation or reparations for their lost livelihood. But what he could do was offer a heartfelt apology and a chance to rebuild once badly burned bridges.
With the help of the genealogy service MyHeritage, Edelmann learned that while Benjamin and his wife Emma Heidelberger had passed away some time ago, as had their children, a granddaughter, Hanna Ehrenreich as alive well.
Ehrenreich lived in Israel, where her family relocated after fleeing Nazi-held Germany in the late 1930s, just before the Kristallnacht pogroms against Jewish people began. She was 83 years old and a retired teacher.
Edelmann, once again using MyHeritage, reached out to Ehrenreich, writing her an apology letter and hoping to connect with her.
He wrote, “I believe that if my family supported the injustice your grandparents experienced, it is our duty to take this into account and take over responsibility at least in getting in touch with you to listen and learn. As I am part of the Edelmann family I want to take the first step and listen to you.”
Edelmann continued that it was his wish to use this as a teachable moment for his children, using it to help them make wiser and “better decisions in their lives” as well as to ensure that his family never again plays such a role in the devastation of others.
To his surprise, Ehrenreich accepted his apology and agreed to speak with him, connecting some weeks later over the phone for about 90 minutes.
While admitting that wrongs had most certainly been done, Ehrenreich said that she bore no hard feelings for Edelmann or even his grandfather. According to her grandfather’s diary, the elder Edelmann was actually held somewhat in high regard in the family.
Heidelberger had written that while Edelmann was a member of the Nazi party, he was not monstrous to their family.
“My business successor, Wilhelm Edelmann, came every first of the month to pay the rent and even though he was a member of the Nazi party, he was a decent man and not an anti-Semite.”
Edelmann even warned Heidelberger of the impending doom of the Jews in the area and urged him to flee. “One day, Edelmann came to me and said I should leave Germany as quickly as possible. There were plans in place to act against Jews and felt obliged to warn me, his good acquaintance.”
It’s not often that forgiveness can be reached so easily. But Edelmann and Ehrenreich are proof that even the inhuman acts can be turned around for good.