Hilde Schramm, the daughter of top Nazi Albert Speer, is a human rights activist who has devoted her life to helping Jewish artists.
Albert Speer was a brilliant architect and a member of Hitler’s inner circle who became one of the most powerful figures in the Third Reich. When World War II ended, Albert’s daughter Hilde was nine years old. She barely knew her father, who’d been largely absent during the war years.
After the war, Speer, along with other top Nazis, was tried at Nuremberg for war crimes. He was the only defendant who expressed remorse for his part in Hitler’s Final Solution. Albert became known as “the Nazi who said sorry.”
Albert Speer wasn’t executed but was sentenced to twenty years in prison. It was during his years behind bars that Hilde got to know her father. They exchanged hundreds of letters, and much of their correspondence centered on Hilde’s quest to understand how her father could have done such monstrous things. “One question will trouble me to the end of my life,” Hilde later said. “How could such a sensitive, basically kind, person like my father, who had irony and humour and in my experience was not particularly authoritarian, how could such a person find his place in this regime and continue to take part until he became entangled in inexcusable crimes?”
Hilde grew up determined to overcome her father’s ugly legacy by doing good. She became a Green Party lawmaker, and advocated for equal rights and tolerance for all. “Wherever I went, whatever I did, I saw something which was a blind spot and I took it up.”
Ten years after Albert’s death in 1981, Hilde inherited some paintings he’d owned. She suspected the artwork had been looted from Jews, but despite exhaustive efforts, she was unable to identify the owners. Determined not to benefit from her father’s horrific crimes, Hilde sold the art and used the money to create a nonprofit foundation dedicated to helping Jewish women artists.
The Zurueckgeben Foundation was created in 1994. The name means “return” or “give back” or “restitution.” By creating the foundation, Hilde also raised awareness of looted Jewish property and art at a time when few people were talking about the issue. She said, “It was very much our point with the word ‘Zurueckgeben,’ which in a way is a provocation, because in a way nobody really can give back, to raise consciousness about the injury that had been done very broadly in Germany.”
Hundreds of Germans have donated to the Zurueckgeben Foundation, and grants have supported over 150 Jewish women artists. Projects funded by the Foundation include a children’s theater, dance performances, books, movies, and art exhibits.
It isn’t just Jews that Hilde helps. During the Greek financial crisis, Hilde created a nonprofit to help people in Greece. She hosted seven refugees from Syria and Afghanistan in her own home. Hilde has received multiple honors for her humanitarian work, including the Obermayer German Jewish History Award which was presented to her on Holocaust Remembrance Day 2019.
For overcoming the demons of her family history and helping hundreds of Jewish women artists, we honor Hilde Schramm as this week’s Thursday Hero.
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