• a lot can happen in 25 years

    It was a novelty for Herbert Sulzbach to find himself in the queue for those with British passports as he left Dover in January 1949, travelling to the continent to pick up old business contacts after his eight years in the British army.

    He had last been in Paris in 1924 on business to see 'Muller et Fils'. Twenty-five years later he was horrified by conditions there:

    'In England we still live in a paradise when you see France! Paris has changed: there is no sense of gaiety.'

    When he met 'Muller' this time it was one of the sons of the family firm whom he saw. Alfred was the only one alive of the four sons who were to have carried forward the business. Other family members had been murdered in Auschwitz or had died while working for the French Resistance.

    At the time of his visit in 1924, Sulzbach had been the director of a small fancy paper factory near Berlin and had travelled frequently and extensively to build up contacts – despite the difficult financial and political climate in Germany in the 1920s.

    Since he was Jewish, he had been forced to sell his factory for a derisory sum at the end of 1936 and it had become premises for producing colour film for the neighbouring film industry. His business friends were generous and supportive:

    'Good luck! And a handshake from your Fritz Blankenstein, Société Anonyme Hoedhaar, le Lokeren, Belgium.'

    Sulzbach kept in touch with as many of them as he could and as his service in the British army came to an end he asked his wife,

    'Should I ask my previous good customers - Henningsen in Copenhagen, and Hunkeler and Wysmuller in Amsterdam – what the sale and demand for fancy paper is? Or should I ask the famous London firm, Sanderson? Sandersons bought a lot from us twenty years ago.'

    But Sulzbach's life as a businessman had ended, although his contacts remained very useful. After a fruitless search for work, he was able – through the new German Embassy - to continue the inspirational work that he had begun with PoW. His work for reconciliation and Anglo-German friendship over the next thirty years brought close and lasting European ties for many individuals, families, organisations and civic institutions.

    (photo: an envelope addressed to Sulzbach on one of his pre-war business visits to London © Yvonne Klemperer. text © Ainslie Hepburn)


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On my blog I write about biography, Anglo-German reconciliation, and the life of Herbert Sulzbach.


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