Distinguished Service Award

WOLFGANG HANEY
Berlin
2015

Wolfgang Haney was an avid collector, initially of stamps and coins as a child growing up in Berlin. And later, after a successful career as an engineer at the Berlin magistrate and the Berlin utility company BEWAG, he grew passionate about growing a much more important kind of collection—traveling the country to retrieve all items and objects he could find relating to Jewish history, anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, accruing more than 12,000 pieces in all.

Now, at the age of 91, Haney, who is the author of a half-dozen books, holds one of the most extensive private collections of Holocaust-era material, all of it financed solely through his retirement pension. From postcards and letters sent from concentration camps, to documents, photographs, posters, leaflets, stamps, stickers, anti-Semitic caricatures and even Jewish ration cards, Haney’s objects along with his personal story have been the subject of dozens of exhibitions throughout Germany—from Ludwigsburg to Koblenz, from Heidelberg to Osnabrück—and gained a popular following in Poland, with exhibitions from Wroclaw to Krakow to Gdansk.

“My desire and goal is to inform the German population, especially the youth, and explain that what the Nazis [did] was an unimaginable disaster for Germany,” says Haney, who is motivated in part by his fears of a resurgent anti-Semitism in the country. “In schools they hear from teachers about the Nazis, but they’re not so informed. It’s very important that they know what happened. In earlier years, the Germans said that they did it and they [acknowledged that the Holocaust] was very bad. But now, slowly, the anti-Semitism is beginning again.”

Born in 1924 to a Catholic father and a Jewish mother, Haney experienced that anti-Semitism personally: due to his mother being Jewish, Haney was kicked out of high school, and his father, a pianist, saw his music school closed down by the Nazis in 1933. When their house was bombed and destroyed in 1943, the family was forced to move into a basement before a relative of his father took them in. Haney’s mother later avoided deportation by fleeing into the woods outside Berlin, where she hid and survived the war. But the rest of her extended family perished in the Holocaust. “My uncle, my aunt, the whole of our family was sent to Litzmanstadt (Lodz), then to Auschwitz. No one came back,” says Haney, who was spared deportation due to his father’s connections.

Haney was later able to attend school, and after earning a degree in engineering he went to work for the city administration helping to rebuild Berlin after the war. Only many years later, after retiring from his work as a municipal civil engineer, did Haney realize he needed to address not only his own family past but Germany’s role in the Holocaust. “I left work and thought, ‘I must do it—I must do something to remember all the people who died in our family. The Germans must say what they have done to the Jews.’”

Haney worked in cooperation with the Bundesarchiv (National Archives) and the Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung (Federal Agency for Civic Education), as well as the Museum für Kommunikation (Museum for Communication) in Frankfurt and the Jüdisches Museum Frankfurt (Frankfurt Jewish Museum) to produce numerous books about Germany’s Holocaust history, including Der Weg nach Auschwitz (The Way to Auschwitz), Abgestempelt: Judenfeindliche Postkarten (Stamped: Anti-Semitic Postcards), Das Geld des Terrors (The Money of Terror), and Spuren aus dem Ghetto Lodz 1940-1944 (Traces of the Lodz Ghetto 1940-1944). Haney’s books today are housed in libraries, courts, schools, museums, memorials and archives throughout the country.

Guy Stern, director of the Institute of the Righteous within the Holocaust Memorial Center of Greater Detroit, says Haney’s work “is absolutely necessary in efforts to have concrete reminders and evidence of a never-before perpetrated atrocity. His collection of artifacts, brought together by arduous work, personal devotion and expenditure…has not only served as a reminder of past atrocities but as a defense against anti-Semitism [today].”

Haney, who received Berlin’s highest honor, the Verdienstorden des Landes Berlin (Order of Merit), from the Mayor in 2006, says he acted with the dual goal of documenting Nazi history while communicating that history to the wider public. “I had to learn the history, so I bought all that I could buy that was Jewish. I bought them in shops, in markets, in antique stores,” he says, recalling his painstaking research. “You must look, you must look, you must go, you must ask.”

Nominated by: Hans-Guenter Müller, Berlin, Germany; Norbert Kampe, Berlin, Germany; Guy Stern, Farmington Hills, MI, USA; Wolfgang Michalka, Heidelberg, Germany; Helmut Gold, Frankfurt am Main, Germany; Isabel Enzenbach, Frankfurt am Main, Germany, Wolfgang Hempel, Gaggenau, Germany