Auctioning off the Property of Dead Jews Pays Well


Peter Redlich seems to be a somewhat common name. In one life, he was a prominent lawyer, a mentor and family man who died in 2013. In another, he’s a Senior Public Sector leader, whatever that is, in Australia, may he live long and be well. He’s also a vice president of development in Arizona, and something to do with Civil Engineering in Slovakia.

But another Peter Redlich never got to be any of those things…not a lawyer, an engineer, a leader of any kind. Some time ago, an electrician named Guus Braam was working in a house in Amsterdam when he discovered a suitcase wrapped in newspaper. He figured it had something to do with World War II and he and the owner of the house agreed to give the contents…well, most of the contents…of the suitcase to the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam. I’ll explain that “most” in a second. First, I’ll tell you what was in the suitcase, and what we learned.

Peter Redlich (Photo credit: the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam)

There was a young man named Peter…Peter Redlich. He was probably born in Hamburg, Germany. His family fled Germany when the Nazis came to power. What we know is that Peter was 19 years old when he died. No, when he was murdered in Mauthausen, a concentration camp in Austria, on September 13, 1941.

Peter’s parents were murdered in Auschwitz in February, 1944 after their hiding place was disclosed to the Germans. His brother, Gunther, was murdered a few weeks later. The company where Peter worked, Asscher Interiors, sent his parents three months worth of wages as compensation for the death of their son.

So what this electrician found were documents showing that the Redlich’s tried to escape Europe. They applied for visas to travel to the United States. The original article indicates that it is unknown whether they ever received a response to their applications. In the suitcase were all sorts of other documents. A letter informing the Redlichs that Peter had died, one of Peter’s report cards. A ledger that Peter had maintained; one in which he kept track of expenses. We learn that he loved to sail and had purchased a small boat and kept track of payments for the boat, as well as other items.

It was something that we are given less and less as time goes by – a first-hand look, a personal, inside story of a Holocaust victim. It was a wonderful find and a special gift that Mr. Braam and the owner of the house, Marianne Eleveld-Lases made that enabled us to learn about Peter and Gunther, and their parents.

And this would be an amazing story, with a wonderful title for this post, were it not for two points. The first point is an assumption, perhaps an inaccurate one. The second is a fact, one that bothers me tremendously.

Ms Eleveld-Lases is identified as the owner of the house. We know that the Redlichs were rather well off. They owned a raincoat factory. The suitcase also contained money. If we assume that the Redlich’s owned the home, how then is the current owner Ms Eleveld-Lases? Would a renter tuck away a suitcase up in an attic somewhere? It’s only an assumption. Perhaps they were only renters. Perhaps they had moved out after selling the house and Ms Eleveld-Lases can truly show a chain of legitimate owners, unbroken by a the technicality of one owner who was denied the chance to actually sell the property.

But the second point is what hurt my heart just a little. In the JTA article, the Het Parool daily is cited as the source of the following information:

The owner of the home where the suitcase was found, Marianne Eleveld-Lasès, auctioned off several coins that were found in the suitcase but decided to donate the rest to the museum.

Ms Eleveld-Lases tells about how touched she was after realizing what was in the box. She speaks about how Peter made her think about her own son and how “the parents and brother of Peter must have felt.”

She “auctioned off several coins that were found in the suitcase.” See, on the first point, we could argue the painful truth. Hundreds of thousands of Jews were murdered and the fact that they were robbed of their properties by the Nazis (and in many cases by their neighbors), blurs behind the cruel and barbaric deaths thrust upon them.

But this Ms Eleveld-Lases didn’t own that suitcase. It belonged to Peter, to Gunther, but even more, without question, to their parents. What right did she have to auction off the coins? Does “finders keepers, losers weepers” work when murder is involved?

It is amazing that we have reclaimed Peter’s name, his photograph, and even some of his writings. A look at a life stolen at the age of 19. Perhaps he would have been an accountant, a lawyer, a senior public sector leader…

There is gratitude towards Ms Eleveld-Lases for giving Peter back to us…but why did she sell the coins? What right did she have? Peter haunts me; but so do the coins. Not for their monetary value but for the injustice of a woman profiting off the lives and deaths of a Jewish teenager.

I guess in a country where 75% of their Jews were murdered during the Holocaust, a country where Anne Frank and her family were betrayed, where Peter and his family were betrayed, we shouldn’t be surprised.

The gratitude fades away in anger and disgust. If you cared about Peter, all that was left would have been donated. Instead, the documents, letters and report card were donated but as soon as there were coins involved, the option to honor the memory of dead Jews just couldn’t outweigh the chance to make a quick and easy profit. Why? To the owner of the house, I have nothing to say. But I will speak to Peter Redlich.

Peter, you have not been forgotten. This night, a candle has been lit in your memory here in Israel. May the light of the shining candle guide your soul back to us. We claim you as ours, now and forever. I’m sorry you never lived to see this land, never lived to fulfill your dreams, never got a chance to sail the seas here in Israel. May your memory be blessed.

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