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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Book review: "Fromms: How Julius Fromm's Condom Empire Fell to the Nazis"

(I was sent this book for review.)

Julius Fromm was Germany's condom king between the two world wars. He innovated the manufacture and quality control of the product and became fabulously successful.

But, he was Jewish.

The book, "Fromms: How Julius Fromm's Condom Empire Fell to the Nazis" is an English translation of a book published two years ago in Germany. It is a quick read, less than 200 pages of actual text. Even at this short length, it feels as if the authors padded it as much as they could.

It is a story of an eastern European Jewish family, headed by a brilliant businessman, who tried to assimilate into German society and failed.

It is difficult to know what the aim of the book is. In the beginning, it is a description of the burgeoning sexualization of Germany in the 1920s; it then turns into a short biography of Julius Fromm and how he built his business, and then finally into a relatively detailed review of how his business was systematically dismantled by the Nazis (and, to an extent, by the Germans and Russians after the war, refusing to compensate the family.)

This last part is the most interesting. Fromm was forced to sell the company to Herman Göring's godmother at a fraction of its value in 1938. It also describes the "Jew auctions" that would be held regularly in Berlin to sell off the possessions of the expelled, the doomed and the dead. The finest objects would be confiscated by the Nazi elite; only the second and third tier possessions made it to these auctions, and a majority of Berliners took advantage of them.

Another interesting chapter deals with one of Fromm's brothers who was shipped to Australia from England on the Dunera along with many other Jewish refugees and prisoners of war.

Julius Fromm himself managed to escape Germany before the war with most of his family and a small part of his fortune. Although he died only days after the war ended, reportedly of excitement at the chance to start his business anew, it is hard to feel empathy for him as he rode out the war in relative luxury in England.

For serious Holocaust historians, the book adds a bit of detail that has been so far unexplored about the fate of Jewish-owned businesses before, during and after the war. Otherwise, the main parts of the book can be gleaned from the Wikipedia article on Fromm.