Germany | Switzerland 2019
Opening April 25, 2019
Directed by Eva Gerberding, André Schäfer
Writing credits: Eva Gerberding, André Schäfer
Principal actors: Documentary
The German production and distribution companies Florianfilm GMbH and Real Fiction Filmverleih collaborate with documentary filmmakers Eva Gerberding and Andre Schafer as they tell the story of one of Germany's most fascinating Jewish families in The Case of Max Emden.
To get the full picture of just how important the Max Emden family was to Europe, Germany, Hamburg and then to Switzerland one must unravel the family ancestry. Eloquently portrayed, Gerberding and Schäfer use archival film footage of Hamburg, Germany and quality interviews to brighten the narrative of a successful family lineage of Jewish entrepreneurs.
Max Emden's Jewish forefathers came from Lithuania. The family occupations were educators and Rabbis who made their way to Budapest in the mid-1600s. Several decades later one of the daughters married Jacob Emden of a prestigious Rabbinical family from Altona, a suburb of Hamburg, Germany. Jacob is still known to this day in the Jewish world as one of the most influential reform Rabbis in Europe. Aside from his duties as the Rabbi in Altona, Hamburg, Jacob had two side-businesses: a printing shop and one dealing in precious gems. This is the beginning of the Emden business dynasty.
Max James Emden was born to Jacob in Hamburg in 1874 and as an adult followed in his father's footsteps as a successful business entrepreneur in Hamburg specializing in textiles and finance. Born to Max James Emden was a son, Max. Upon graduating from the Hamburger Wilhelm-Gymnasium he left his Jewish roots and converted to the Lutheran faith. He continued his studies in Chemistry and Mineralogy completing a Ph.D. In 1900 he took over his father's Art Franchise business that at the time had over 200 clients all over Germany. His love of art never languished; he became a famous collector known world-wide. Over time his collection exceeded over 500 original pieces.
In 1904, Max added to the family business the development of the department store. In 1907, KaDeWe in Berlin opened along with nine others in Hamburg, Germany, and Europa wide. In 1910, Max married and settled in the Klein Flottbek area. In 1911 their son Hans Erich Emden was born. The Polo club and the Botanical gardens were among some of the properties owned by Max not to mention his amazing Villa and the first Hamburg Golf Club.
In 1925, Max owned over 30 departments stores and employed over 10,000 people all over Europe but was especially generous to the city of his roots, Hamburg. His success continued through 1927 and then he began to feel a changing tide within the leadership of the country that made him uncomfortable. He purchased the Swiss Brissago-Island and continued to spend more and more time on what he called his earthly paradise.
After Hitler became the German Chancellor in 1933, he was afraid to travel to his homeland for fear of an arrest even though he was of Protestant faith, he was still considered Jewish by birth. In 1934, Max became an official citizen of Switzerland and never traveled to Hamburg again, much less Germany.
Hitler was an obsessive art collector and confiscated some of Max's collection without warning. The German regime under Hitler had a watchful eye on Max Emden constantly since his relocation and they took advantage to collect as much of his property as they could get their hands on. At the age of 66, Max was mysteriously poisoned, which ended his life. Upon Max's death it was noted of him, "One needs a strong heart to live without roots."
Now eighty years later, The Case of Max Emden stems from Max's grandson who is seeking restitution and payment for the items thought to be stolen from the Emden family treasures and an official apologetic statement for the ill-will caused to his grandfather from the German government during the Nazi-Regime. Documents show that out of 500 works of Max Emden’s art collection only 14 paintings were located. The Max Emden theft is known as the worst tragedy ever and in the darkest of darkest days of German history--the worst of the worst. (Karen P.)