How the Zoo Chooses to Explain

In 2002 the Zoo published an article in which, after 57 years of denial, it reveals documents "found to our surprise" that give some of the details of the persecution of Jews by the Zoo authorities. The article appears in Bongo, the Zoo's official organ, in it issue 32 (2002), pp. 77-88. Another version appears in newsletter des Zentrums für Antisemitismusforschung:

The article is signed Monika Schmidt. I have sent the following letter to Ms. Schmidt:

My dear Miss Schmidt,

Thank you very much for sending me your essay "Heute haben Sie wieder ....," Bongo, 32 (2002).


As an old teacher I am used to giving grades, so I will tell you right off what I would give your essay: B, which is good, but not quite as good as A, which would be very good.

That is not to say that your essay lacks parts that are indeed very good. None of us had known before the precise details of the Nazification of the Zoo in the years 1933 to 1938, and your details, and your account of how things developed over those years, make a real contribution to our understanding of Nazi history. But for the years after 1945 your article is inadequate. You do devote a little paragraph to this period on page 87, and I am glad that you say at least something.

But you miss the crucial fact that that several of us rightful heirs approached the Zoo over many decades and that the Zoo has, if effect, lied to us over all those decades. As I think you must have known, I myself approached the Zoo in about 1966, and was simply told that my father had "sold" his shares. Professor F, whose address you have, approached the Zoo a number of times as well and was equally rebuffed. The most telling response to us was by Dr. Richard Lehmann, employed by the Zoo as their lawyer.

In his letter to me of April 11, 2000, Dr. Lehmann proclaims that the expropriation of Jewish shareholders was a perfectly legal sale, without duress or pressure, or, as he expressed himself in German, there was "weder Druck, noch Zwang, noch Nötigung." These six words express the attitude of the post-War Zoo.

Dr. Lehmann, who said that he visited the Zoo habitually since his early childhood and throughout the Nazi period, said that he can certify, "with absolute certainty," on the basis of his own experience, that Jews were never excluded from the Zoo during the Nazi period, that no notices forbidding the admission of Jews were ever displayed, etc. The Zoo, in the words of its lawyer in the year 2000, claims to have been an absolute oasis during this period, free of any anti-Semitism whatever. Dr. Lehmann's letter and similar ones from other Zoo officials was available to you, as indeed they are to the whole world, both on my website and in the articles written about the matter in the Berlin press. That the Nazis who ran the Zoo during the Nazi period behaved like Nazis is hardly surprising, although of course it is good to have details that you have furnished. But that the post-war educated Germans who ran the Zoo since 1945 systematically denied the story, that is worth noting. You should have noted it.



Werner Cohn

Sept. 9, 2002


See also German newspaper articles of October 2002





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