Almost Lost:

The Heinemann Legacy

This film explores what was “almost lost” and how one family found restitution, healing, and reconciliation. In 2014, Museum Lüneburg in Germany was seeking descendants of Marcus Heinemann (1819-1908), a leading Jewish citizen. They wanted to return items looted by the Nazis. Marcus had 17 children. Two of the children and many of his grandchildren were murdered. The survivors escaped to England, France, Venezuela, Israel, Holland, Mexico, South Africa, and the US. In this film, 40 family members met in Lüneburg, many for the first time, for a ceremony to loan the items back to the museum. The film captures the mixture of feelings of the heirs and a powerful moment when the German hosts asked for forgiveness. 

Anneke de Rudder, Museum Historian wrote “In a very unusual way, this weekend at the museum thus brought together the past, the present and the future: The common look back into history, with all its beautiful and all its pain­ful aspects, created a very special atmos­phere which none of those present is likely to forget very soon. The museum provided the space for talks, emo­tions, images, discus­sions, disco­veries and expe­riences. All over town, Lüneburgers opened their doors and houses, inviting the Heinemanns into their homes, giving them the feeling that they were warmly welcome in Lüneburg  – seventy years after the end of the war.

Read more and see the photos.

Click to Find out more about Heinemann Family. The archive is housed at the Leo Baeck Institute in New York City. 


Reclaiming what was almost lost was more than simply a Restitution Ceremony

We reclaimed the legacy of Marcus Heinemann who with his family had a long history in Lüneburg. They became leading citizens and were very involved in the life and welfare of the city. They ran the Simon Heinemann Bank and were members of the board of numerous organizations and institutions, including the Chamber of Commerce, among others. Marcus was a founder of Museum Lüneburg.

We reclaimed a painful and tragic past, of Nazi times, one that tore our family apart. We learned the fate of at least 13 of the many family members who were murdered in concentration camps. Another was killed by euthanasia in a mental hospital, and yet another, a prominent professor who took his life in desperation. And the horrors that sent many members of the family - at least those who could - escaping to distant places across the globe. Many of us grew up hearing bits and pieces of those stories, but when we went, the stories came to life in the empty spot that had been the site of the synagogue, built by the Heinemann family and others, and the Jewish cemetery that had been destroyed not once, but twice in Lüneburg's , and the fact that no Heinemanns were left in the town.

We reclaimed the restitution items that amounted to much more than their monetary value, including some stained glass windows, gold coins, and a bit of furniture-- - all obtained illegally.

We reclaimed the Family Bible, a tangible treasure of our shared past. By loaning it to the museum, it was there for any family member to see. With so many descendants in so many countries, it is better that it remains in the museum to draw our family back to Lüneburgand for the town not to forget us.

We reclaimed an enormous family whose descendants live in England, Holland, France, Israel, Mexico, South Africa, and five US states. Most of us had not known anything about each other, which is understandable, because we are spread across the world. Many of us had grown up in small families, with bits and pieces of the story of the Heinemanns. When we went to Germany, the stories came to life.

We reclaimed the many contributions of the descendants which would have been lost to the world if Hitler had his way. There was Marcus’ son Otto Heinemann, whose Otto K Heinemann phonograph records  recorded many historic early recordings of famous Black jazz artists, now owned by Sony.

Marcus’ youngest son, Henry Heinemann went as a doctor to Sumatra and was later knighted by the Dutch government for his medical services.

And the grand-children of the Heinemanns:

Fritz Heinemann, son of Robert Heinemann, Marcus’ eldest son, was a famous philosopher, who taught at Oxford after he was banished from the University of Frankfurt in the early days of the third Reich.  He wrote many books and was a great thinker and leader in the realm of existentialist philosophy.

Hermann Jacobsohn was a professor of comparative linguistics in Marburg. He spoke 27 languages and started an institute. When he lost his job, due to Nazi purges, he committed suicide.

Fritz Levinger was the Mayor of Yoknean in Israel. Eric Heinemann became the first Guatemalan Consul to Israel in 1949.  Marianne Russo, was written up in the US Congressional Book of Records for her contributions to civil rights and as an author of books on African American history in the US. Another Erich Heinemann in New York wrote about economics for the New York Times.

Ernst Levy was a lawyer in Berlin and survived the camps and went on to work in France. Hannah Hickman who was recued with the Kindertransport to England wrote a book about her experience. Those are just the examples we know about. 

 With family members from 4 generations alive today, we continue to contribute to the world in the arenas of astronomy, journalism, genetics, oceanography, medicine, business, education, and the arts.

Finally, we reclaimed our standing in Lüneburg, once the beloved home of our family. We were deeply touched by the kindness and warmth together with the willingness of the people of the museum, of the State, and of the local Lüneburgwho apologized to us and asked us to forgive them for the horrors done to our family. It made us feel that once again, we were welcome and respected in Lüneburg .

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