Administered Restitution. Expropriation and “Compensation”: The Case of Elsa Saenger

Sina Sauer

Source Description

In the course of the administration of assets expropriated by the National Socialists, the British military government set itself the goal of specifying the property control that had already begun in 1946, which also included the expropriated assets of persons persecuted by the Nazis. On October 20, 1947 it issued the General Decree No. 10 on the basis of Law No. 52 of the Military Government concerning the blocking and control of property. The decree obliged persons who had "owned, managed or supervised property" since January 30, 1933 to make a declaration of assets. This declaration had to be made in the form of the MGAF/P form: Declaration by the current owner or manager of property covered by Article I(1) of General Order No 10.  See Art. II Duty of disclosure, General Decree No. 10 on the basis of Act No. 52 of the Military Government on the Blocking and Control of Property, in: Rudolf Harmening / Wilhelm Hartenstein, eds., Rückerstattungsgesetz.Kommentar zum Gesetz über die Rückerstattung feststellbarer Vermögensgegenstände (Gesetz Nr. 59 der Militärregierung). Frankfurt a. M. 1950.Blatt Nr. 50. That such a form was to be developed had already been established in the winter of 1944: “It is contemplated, however, that shortly thereafter the submission of detailed reports of such blocked property will be required.” Handbook for Military Government in Germany prior to defeat or surrender. Dec. 1944, Part III, 340 Blocking Control (d). The British Military Government also required banks in the British Occupation Zone to fill out this form in order to collect information on confiscated assets and freeze them. In particular, one article of General Order No. 10 required bank administrators to report expropriations which they had witnessed or in which they had aided the authorities. For this reason, Rudolf Herms, the owner and manager of the Hamburg bank Herms & Co., filled in the form shown here on April 19, 1948 and "declared" in it the confiscation of assets owned by his former customer Elsa Saenger. A compensation procedure drawn out over about 20 years between 1948 and 1966 began, conducted between civil servants of the tax authorities in Hamburg and Freiburg and a representative of Elsa Saenger’s. The form is part of a set of files comprising several hundred pages in the state archives of Freiburg and Hamburg (621-1/77_13).
  • Sina Sauer

Administrative Practices among the Allies and the German Tax Authority

The form had been developed as a tool for establishing a compensation practice. It was used in the British sector of occupied Germany by surviving victims of Nazi persecution, heirs, lawyers or institutions such as the Jewish Claims Conference to "declare" seized assets, but basically to reclaim them. In 1948, many of these forms circulated. Often several forms were submitted in parallel within one procedure: for each claim for restitution, a separate form was filed, for example, one for seized securities, one for real estate, and one for bank accounts. The pre-printed form covers one page of DIN A4 paper and was available in English with German translation. The first section requests information on the location of the assets and the personal details of the declarant. Sections I and II provide room for information on the seizure of immovable or movable property. The administrator lists securities amounting to 10,500 Reichsmark as well as further payments amounting to 5,198.77 Reichsmark as assets that were "transferred" to the Deutsche Bank branch in Baden-Baden on July 24, 1941 following an order by the head of police in Baden-Baden requesting that the assets be "made available to the Police Director in accordance with the letter by the Police Director Baden-Baden."  Letter by the Police Superintendent, Jewish Assets Unit, to H.A. Jonas Söhne & Co. dated July 24, 1941, File no.F 196/2 Nr. 4652, S. 9, StAFr. Elsa Saenger, whose last registered address was Werderstr. 5 in Baden-Baden, is named as the injured party. In the first part of the form, not all the categories queried match the answers of the filer, which is why he has crossedout the "question" after the first name with an "x" and written his answer above the printed line. This incongruence illustrates the attempts at standardization in dealing with National Socialist crimes in postwar German compensation practice as well as the experience deficit in this area. The British military government form was created with the purpose of providing a basis for compensation processes. By using certain questions and categories,the form was intended to facilitate the classification and categorization of past expropriations. It was meant to ensure a comparable and uniform administration based on the rule of law. This raises the question of the relationship between a bureaucracy oriented towards norms and standardization and the individual fates of expropriation victims. There are four different layers of writing on this form. The pre-printed paragraphs, fields and lines form the basis. The typewritten information filled in by the bankmanager added a second layer of writing, and his signature, his crossing out of a section that did not apply to him, and his handwritten corrections a third. Finally, the handwritten note "Bitte zurücksenden"  "Please return" by an official written in Sütterlinscript forms the fourth layer. The four layers of writing reveal different layers of time and experience. Further notes on the form such as color-coded underlining, page numbering, abbreviations and numbers of a presumably consecutive numbering system refer as traces of use to administrative work steps of various civil servants and employees at the German tax authority. Thus the path the form took through different authorities and departments and the complex bureaucratic proceduresinvolved can be reconstructed.

The "Aryanization" of Jewish private banks

Just as this form can be treated as an artifact that reveals knowledge about the administrative practices of the German postwar bureaucracy, it also represents a source that helps to reconstruct antisemitic expropriation processes. As the bank manager states on the form, the bank was called H. A. Jonas Söhne& Co. After the death of Otto Jonas in 1926, his son-in-law Rudolf Herms continued to run the bank. With the beginning of the wave of "Aryanization", the company was transferred to him and since September 15, 1941 had been run under the name of Herms & Co., which reflected the successful "Aryanization" within the family. On the basis of personal experience (his mother-in-law Emmy Jonas emigrated, his wife Elisabeth Herms née Jonas barely escaped deportation, and his three sisters-in-law and family were murdered in concentration camps), Rudolf Herms committed himself to restoring the assets of the survivors in his own family and among his former Jewish customers after the end of the war. It can therefore be presumed that Rudolf Herms – in addition to his duty of disclosure – also supported restitution of Elsa Saenger’s assets, regardless of whether the expropriated person was still alive or not. In the case of Elsa Saenger, it was not entirely clear who would inherit. Elsa Saenger’s nephew Felix Löwenthal, whom she had designated as her sole heir during her lifetime, had also been persecuted and murdered by the Nazis. The question of legal succession and inheritance is one of several decision criteria in Elsa Saenger's compensation proceedings.

The expropriation and murder of Elsa Saenger

As a document of administrative practice, the source refers to the individual fate of Elsa Saenger from Hamburg. On November 23, 1897 Elsa Auguste Belmonte married Julius Saenger at the age of 19. He was a merchant and later managing director of the trading company SECO (Simon, Evers & Co. GmbH) in Hamburg, which was founded in 1873 and continues to operate successfully worldwide. The company maintained trade relations with Japan at an early stage and became an important factor in Hamburg's internationalization and economic development. The first imports from Japan consisted of industrial goods, pharmaceuticals and chemicals, while the first exports from Germany were wire tacks and paints. SECO is still an important importer for the Japanese paper business and the sugar industry. Due to financial problems at the company, the Saengers had to sell their house in Hamburg and moved to their summer house in Keitum on the island of Sylt. The couple was friends with the artist and landscape painter Franz Korwan. Korwan, who was born under the name Sally Katzenstein and was also of Jewish descent, had converted to Protestantism in 1908. After Julius Saenger’s death in 1929, Elsa Saenger and Franz Korwan continued to live together in Keitum. Due to the intensification of antisemitic measures on the island of Sylt, both moved to Wiesbaden in the spring of 1937. On September 7, 1938, Elsa Saenger’s bank account and securities had been placed under a "provisional security order." Immediately after her account had been frozen, Elsa Saenger had moved to Baden-Baden and was henceforth registered at Werderstr. 5. As a result of the so-called "Leihhausaktion"  "pawnshop action" she was forced to deliver her jewelry and precious metal possessions to a pawnshop in exchange for insufficient compensation. Despite the deadline of March 31, 1939, however, Elsa Saenger did not surrender her property until May 12, 1939. On July 24, 1941, the department of the Police Director in Baden-Baden instructed the banking house of H.A. Jonas Söhne& Co. – it had not yet been "Aryanized" – to transfer its current balance and securities account to the Deutsche Bank branch in Baden-Baden. This practice was actually under the jurisdiction of the tax authorities; the police supported them in implementing the National Socialist expropriation policy. The note in the declaration of assets that Elsa Saenger "formerly" lived at Werderstraße 5 in Baden-Baden refers to her deportation. On October 22, 1940, Elsa Saenger, Franz Korwan and a further 6,502 men and women were deported from Baden and the Palatinate via Alsace to the southern French camp of Gurs, which they reached after a three-day transport, on Hitler's orders and under the supervision of Josef Bürckel, head of the Palatinate district, and Robert Wagner, head of the Baden district and governor of the Reich, from Baden and the Palatinate. This systematic deportation, also known as the "Wagner-Bürckel Action," was directly connected with the deportation of about 30,000 Alsatians and 24,000 Lorrainers, and it also served as "preparation" for the mass deportations that began one year later. The deported Jews were declared as Alsatians to the French authorities because there was an agreement between the German Reich and France obliging France to place all Jews of French nationality in camps in southern France. The French had not been informed of the transports in advance and had to react offhand.  See Kurt Düwell, Die Rheingebiete in der Judenpolitik des Nationalsozialismus vor 1942. Beitrag zu einer vergleichenden zeitgeschichtlichen Landeskunde. Bonn 1968, p. 257f. On February 20, 1941, Elsa and Franz were transported to the Noe camp. Franz Korwan died there, and Elsa Saenger’s further fate cannot be reconstructed with certainty. We do know that she was transported to Auschwitz via the Drancy collection camp between 1941 and 1944 and was murdered there. Elsa Saenger’s death was officially dated May 31, 1944.  Official notice published in the Journal officiel du Commandement en cheffrancais en Allemagne on June 10, 1947 (digitized by the French National Library at (10/19/18). Camp records, Direction du Camp de Gurs, No. 4413, StA Freiburg. The memorial book of the German Federal Archives contains contradictory death dates (both 1941 and 1944). The two Stolpersteine  stumbling stones that were laid for Elsa Saenger in Keitum on Sylt and in Baden-Baden also bear conflicting information. On the Keitum stone it says "dead 1944 on transport to Auschwitz," while the stone in Baden-Baden reads "Auschwitz murdered 1944." However, Auschwitz is confirmed as the place where she died. Therefore, it is all the more surprising that she and her husband Julius have a shared grave at the Keitum cemetery on Sylt and that the inscription on her tombstone ("died Baden-Baden 1941") is incorrect.


In spite of open questions and gaps in knowledge, this asset declaration form is suitable as a key document in German-Jewish history. A microhistorical examination of the form shows the link between Elsa Saenger’s biography and the history of German bureaucracy and administration after 1945.

Select Bibliography

H. G. Adler, Der verwaltete Mensch, Tübingen 1974.
Frank Bajohr, “Arisierung” in Hamburg. Die Verdrängung der jüdischen Unternehmer 1933-1945, Hamburger Beiträge zur Sozial- und Zeitgeschichte 35, Hamburg 1997.
Ralf Banken, Edelmetallmangel und Großraubwirtschaft. Die Entwicklung des deutschen Edelmetallsektors im “Dritten Reich” 1933-1945, Berlin 2009.
Kurt Düwell, Die Rheingebiete in der Judenpolitik des Nationalsozialismus vor 1942. Beitrag zu einer vergleichenden zeitgeschichtlichen Landeskunde, Bonn 1968.
Ingo Köhler, Die Arisierung der Privatbanken im Dritten Reich. Verdrängung, Ausschaltung und die Frage der Wiedergutmachung, München 2005.
Sina Sauer, Eine Pagode auf dem Keitumer Friedhof. Wer waren Franz Korwan, Elsa und Julius Saenger?, in: Norbert Fischer et al. (ed.), Friedhof am Meer. Der St. Severin-Kirchhof in Keitum und der Tod auf Sylt, Husum 2016, pp. 104-116.
Wolfgang Seibel, Verwaltung verstehen. Eine theoriegeschichtliche Einführung, Berlin 2017.

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About the Author

Sina Sauer, M. A., is a cultural anthropologist and is writing her PhD thesis at Hamburg University in the graduate program of the special research group 950 "Manuscript Cultures in Asia, Africa and Europe" on the creation, use and impact of administrative forms in National Socialist compensation proceedings.

Recommended Citation and License Statement

Sina Sauer, Administered Restitution. Expropriation and “Compensation”: The Case of Elsa Saenger (translated by Insa Kummer), in: Key Documents of German-Jewish History, October 16, 2019. <> [December 07, 2023].

This text is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - Non commercial - No Derivatives 4.0 International License. As long as the work is unedited and you give appropriate credit according to the Recommended Citation, you may reuse and redistribute the material in any medium or format for non-commercial purposes.