Berlin Zoo, 2005, (C-Print 80 x 100)

Excerpts from correspondence between Werner Cohn and Berlin Zoo.*
Werner Cohn: „I have very pleasant memories of my early childhood of visiting the Zoo to play and to observe the animals; in particular I remember a sea lion named Roland. We were able to walk to the eastern entrance of the Zoo from our apartment in Moabit […].
To summarize, I am asking that you investigate the conditions under which the alleged sale of my father’s stock took place. Was it a voluntary, legal sale? Or did it take place under pressure from the Nazi regime? What price did myfather receive? How did this price compare to the fair market value of the stock at the time? Secondly, I am asking that you investigate the conditions under which Jews were barred from visiting your establishment during the Nazi regime, with particular attention to the dates on which these restrictions were effected. Finally, I would like to know, in general and in the case of others, how you have handled the matter of Jewish ownership of Zoo stock during the Nazi period.“
Zoo: „Many thanks for your kind letter of 2 March 2000. To the questions raised in your letter we would like to give the following statement.
Share certificated number 1114, assigned to Dr James Cohn on 28 February 1928, passed into the ownership of Mr Ferdinand Kallmeyer on 13 August 1938. The circumstances under which this occurred and the price that is likely to have been secured can no longer be ascertained due to lacking documents. A large part of our archive was destroyed during air raids making it impossible to reconstruct the series of events. 2. The question of how Jews were treated in the Zoo during that time is difficult to answer. A surviving employee who grew up on the Zoo’s premises cannot remember there having been any prohibition signs. She is of the opinion that the gatekeepers were not given any instructions not to allow Jews to enter the Zoo’s premises.“
Werner Cohn: „[…] You say that our stock was sold to a Mr. Ferdinand Kallmeyer in August of 1938. Would Mr. Kallmeyer, or his heirs and successors, be available to be interviewed concerning the conditions under which he acquired this Jewish property? Furthermore, does this Aktie 1114 still belong to Mr. Kallmeyer or his family today?
Again, I am not a lawyer, but I understand that claim for title that is illegally acquired, for instance by theft or under duress, cannot become good title, nor can such title be transferred by sale or inheritance.
But, not being a lawyer, I am not sure of these things. No doubt you have lawyers who can advise you; I would certainly be interested in what they have to say.
Finally, I wish to stress once again that my interest in this matter far transcends the issue of my family property. I would like to know how the Zoo has dealt with its former Jewish stockholders. I have reason to believe that there were many such people; people who supported the Zoo loyally – as indeed they supported their German fatherland loyally, until they were disenfranchised and then chased away and killed. The legal side of this issue is important, but it is a small matter compared to the moral issue, which is how the Zoo has dealt with its former Jewish stockholders and how it deals with them now.“
Mr Lehmann (lawyer): „In response to your letter of 21.03.2000 to Zoologische Garten Berlin AG I as a jurist inform you of the following: […] a transference of this kind [sic] was carried out by Mr Kallmeyer in 1938. More precise details could not be ascertained. I would, however, like to point out that a dispossession of shares in the ownership of Jewish shareholders never took place. Neither does the Zoo know of any case in which a share had to be returned to its former Jewish owner as a result of the Reimbursement Law. […] To conclude, may I once again point out that due to this regulation there has not been any ruling whatsoever condemning Berlin Zoo of having transferred shares from Jewish shareholders on to new owners.
Irrespective of this legal position, Professor Cohn, you are always welcome to visit Berlin Zoo any time you wish in order to uphold the pleasant memories of your childhood in association with our zoo.“
The Berlin daily newspaper Berliner Morgenpost, over two years later (8 October 2002): „Due to public pressure Monika Schmidt, scientist from the Zentrum für Antisemitismusforschung der TU Berlin (Centre for Anti-Semitism Studies of the Berlin Technical University) was given the assignment of analysing the Zoo’s archive. Supervisory board protocols apparently lost during the war ’surprisingly‘ reappeared. They substantiate how the Zoo was to become the ‚Garden of Eden through Entjudung (Removal of Jews)‘. Schmidt’s research findings were recently published
in ‚Bongo‘, the Zoo’s second annual report. In her study Schmidt shows how Jewish shareholders were excluded and forced to sell their shares at giveaway prices.“
Werner Cohn joined twenty other descendents of former Jewish shareholders of Zoo shares and announced by email that to date no compensation has been paid (at 7000 euros each the Zoo shares are among Germany most valuable shares).

* The entire correspondence between Werner Cohn and the Zoo consists of 17 parts and took place between March 2000 and January 2001; it has been published on Werner Cohn’s website., vgl.