From Będzin to Frankfurt
Arno Lustiger grew up in Będzin, a small town in Polish Upper Silesa, where the majority of the population were Jewish. Systematic persecution commenced here as well in September 1939, when the German Wehrmacht marched in, ultimately leading to the deportation of all Jews who still lived in the area. Unlike his father and brother, Arno Lustiger survived internment in a number of different concentration camps and managed to escape from a death march in April 1945. A US tank unit hired him as a translator. After the end of the war, Lustiger and his surviving family members – his mother and his three sisters – were reunited in the Displaced Persons Camp in Zeilsheim near Frankfurt. Arno had actively sought his mother and sisters and brought them out of the Soviet-occupied zone to the West in a daring manner.
Emigration to Israel or the US as originally planned was not possible due to the frail health of Lustiger’s mother and sister Hella. Consequently, Arno Lustiger settled in Frankfurt, where he established a fashion apparel factory. He was also a co-founder of the Jewish Community and served for many years as chair of the Zionistic Organisation in Germany, or ZOD. However, four decades passed until Lustiger was able to write of his own traumatic Holocaust experiences.
Arno Lustiger in the Jüdische Allgemeine newspaper, 25 April 1999
Every time I get angry, I write a book.
Chronicler of the resistance
A chance encounter during a flight prompted Arno Lustiger’s decision to explore the forgotten history of the 6,000 Jewish volunteers in the Spanish Civil War. His article “Shalom Libertad!” was published in 1989, launching his career as a writer. Writing about forgotten or repressed aspects of Jewish history became his labour of love. He next wrote historical works on the Jewish resistance against National Socialism and Jewish persecution under Stalin. Thanks to Lustiger’s unrelenting efforts as a writer and witness of the times, the predominant doctrine of the fatal passivity of European Jews was successfully disproven. Lustiger received numerous accolades for this achievement and was even awarded the Federal Cross of Merit (Bundesverdienstkreuz ) three times. He was subsequently bestowed academic titles as well – an honorary doctorate from the University of Potsdam in 2003 and that of honorary professor from the State of Hesse in 2007.
Arno Lustiger in his office in Frankfurt am Main around 1960.
As a factory owner and wholesaler of ladies’ fashion apparel, Arno Lustiger became a successful entrepreneur in post-war Frankfurt. The undated photo shows the restless businessman at work with his tape recorder.
Fashion catalogue of the firm arno lustiger+co, Frankfurt am Main, 1954-1969.
Catalogues, letters, design drawings and even swathes of fabric document Arno Lustiger’s business activities. They also offer a fascinating insight into the fashions of days gone by.
Federal President Horst Köhler awards Arno Lustiger the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, Berlin 2009.
Arno Lustiger was highly esteemed throughout Germany as a Jewish resistance historian. The list of officials and dignitaries who maintained contact with him is long. The photo was taken at the reception given by Horst Köhler on 12 November 2009 as part of the Grand Cross awards ceremony.
The Federal Cross of Merit, the Moses Mendelssohn award and the Goethe medal.
Arno Lustiger was awarded the Federal Cross of Merit no fewer than three times in recognition of his efforts on behalf of German-Jewish relationships. Lustiger received numerous other accolades from cities, federal German states, and organisations, including the Goethe medal and the Moses Mendelssohn award.
Arno Lustiger in his library.
The Lustiger legacy at the Jewish Museum
In 2017, Arno Lustiger’s daughter Gila donated his academic and personal legacy to the museum as a permanent loan. After several months under development, the collection has been accessible in the museum archive since the beginning of 2018. Numerous documents, manuscripts and other sources of information, comprising a total of 14 metres of shelves, are evidence of decades of research. Comprehensive correspondence with public officials and dignitaries as well as with several German presidents underscores the tremendous importance officially attached to Lustiger’s work.
from Gila Lustiger, So sind wir. Ein Familienroman, S. 250, soft-cover p. 250
My father was never a “surviver”. Not even in Auschwitz, Buchenwald or Langenstein did he ever stop living, suffering, breathing and hoping. He was someone who was “alive”, not a workhorse, not a “subhuman”, not an organism whose composite could have been broken down into organs, tissues and cells. He was not reducible to something so irrelevant as work, scourges, bread rations, and indefatigability. My father was never a surviver. Always just that: someone weaving his way between parked cars– someone a-live. Breathing a sigh of happiness at the sight of an abundant bookshelf.
However, his entrepreneurial activities in the textile industry, and his tireless work for the Zionistic Organisation in Germany and the Frankfurt Jewish Community are also well documented. The legacy papers also offer insight in Arno Lustiger as a private person – for example, from his family letters written in Polish in the years after the war. The legacy in its entirety provides a virtually seamless account of the life and work of Arno Lustiger and is a valuable resource for future research.
Lustiger as author
- "Schalom Libertad!" Juden im Spanischen Bürgerkrieg. Athenäum, Frankfurt am Main 1989.
- Zum Kampf auf Leben und Tod. Das Buch vom Widerstand der Juden 1933–1945. Kiepenheuer & Witsch, Köln 1994.
- Jüdische Kultur in Ostmitteleuropa am Beispiel Polens. Bonn 2000.
- Rotbuch: Stalin und die Juden. Die tragische Geschichte des Jüdischen Antifaschistischen Komitees und der sowjetischen Juden. Berlin 2000.
- „Wir werden nicht untergehen“: Zur jüdischen Geschichte. München 2002.
- Sing mit Schmerz und Zorn. Ein Leben für den Widerstand. Aufbau-Verlag, Berlin 2004
- Rettungswiderstand. Über die Judenretter in Europa währen der NS-Zeit. Göttingen 2011.
Lustiger as editor:
- Das Schwarzbuch. Der Genozid an den sowjetischen Juden. Hamburg 1994.
- Jüdische Stiftungen in Frankfurt a.M. Frankfurt am Main 1988.
Lustiger in interviews:
- B. Kerski, J. Skibinska (Hrsg.): Ein jüdisches Leben im Zeitalter der Extreme. Gespräche mit Arno Lustiger. Osnabrück 2004.
- „Das wird dir niemand glauben.“ In: Martin Doerry (Hrsg.): Nirgendwo und überall zu Haus. Gespräche mit Überlebenden des Holocaust. München 2006, S. 142–151.
- Arno Lustiger erzählt aus seinem Leben: „Ich habe mein ganzes Leben Glück gehabt.“ In der Edition Zeugen einer Zeit. Aktives Museum Spiegelgasse für Deutsch-Jüdische Geschichte e. V., Wiesbaden 2008 (Audio-CD).