Excerpt from a 2009 Interview with Hans Reiss (1922-2020)*

You were brought up in an affluent household on Luisenring in Mannheim ...

Hans Reiss True, my family home really was rather grand. I was an only son; my father Berthold Reiss was the owner of the Gebrüder Bauer printing works, and my mother Maria Petri had been an actress at the National Theater in Mannheim until her marriage. We lived in an eight-room apartment with its own tea parlor, study and music room. The table in the dining room sat 14. Imposing oil portraits of my grandparents were displayed on the walls.

Your father was Jewish, your mother Protestant. Which faith were you raised in?

HR My religious instruction at high school was Jewish. My father went to the synagogue twice a year and took me along a few times. I found it mind-numbing. The women spent the time there discussing lunch. I was awed by the silence at the services I attended at my Methodist school in Ireland. I met the theologian Hermann Maas in Heidelberg, a Protestant minister and a pioneer in the field of Jewish-Christian dialog. He may well have been the most important man I met during my life. I decided to get baptized.

Your father was a successful entrepreneur ...

HR Yes, our printing plant was the biggest in south-western Germany. As a patriotic German, my father had purchased war bonds during World War I, and transferred money he had deposited in Switzerland and the Netherlands to Germany. He lost most of his fortune to inflation. Despite this, he ordered a big gravure printing press at the Leipzig Trade Fair in 1928 – the first such press in Germany. A second followed later. We had between 250 and 350 employees.

Did your father ever talk about the political changes in Germany?

HR Once Hindenburg had won the Reichstag elections in 1932, my father didn't seem particularly concerned. Even when Hitler came to power in 1933, he argued that, in politics, things were never as dire as they might seem. He considered himself a German.

The boycott of Jewish businesses was ordered in April 1933. Did that affect the printing plant as well?

HR My father's company didn't suffer from being Jewish-owned. On the contrary, things clearly took a turn for the better. My father felt positive about the future.

You were ten years old at the time. Did events change anything in your life?

HR At Easter 1933, I only received a commendation at school and not the prize I was entitled to. During school hours we had to greet teachers with the Nazi salute.

In 1938, laws were passed compelling your father to sell the company. Can you remember that?

HR A paper supplier by the name of Kahn came to my father's office and told him he thought Dr. Franz Burda – who had a relatively small printing plant in Offenburg but published the successful radio guide SÜRAG – might be interested in buying the company. My father and Franz Burda hit it off immediately. They worked together at the company for another year, sitting opposite each other in the executive office.

Didn't your parents ever consider leaving Germany?

HR My father always used to say that things weren't that bad as long as we were still living in our own four walls.

On November 10, 1938, Nazi Party henchmen laid waste to your parents' apartment and arrested your father. Did Franz Burda hear about this?

HR Yes, he was one of the first to come to the apartment and offer his help.

Your parents survived the Nazi rule in Heidelberg, while you fled to Ireland aged 17. When did you return to Germany for the first time?

HR At the end of May 1945, the Red Cross notified me that my parents were still alive. In June 1946, I traveled to Heidelberg as an Irish citizen. My parents were living there in a ground-floor apartment.

Did you and your father ever get the chance to return to the printing plant?

HR The plant itself had been destroyed, but Franz Burda had presciently moved the gravure printing presses to Lahr-Dinglingen. He had also hired some of the employees. My father was an old man by then. He was 71 and no longer interested in being part of the company. Franz Burda gave him back pay and a pension. For my own part, I had no desire to get involved in the company. I wanted to teach in higher education.

Franz Burda also owed your father a debt of gratitude for helping him resume his printing and publishing operations after the war.

HR Yes, they traveled together to Baden-Baden and my father testified on his behalf before the French military government.

Can you remember meeting members of the Burda family in the early days?

HR Aenne and Franz Burda came to my father's 75th birthday party in Heidelberg. Franz paid for him to take a trip to Badenweiler, but unfortunately he was no longer able to go himself. My mother and I went instead. On the way there, we stopped off at the Burdas' place in Offenburg. It was then that I met Hubert, who was 10 years old at the time. After I got engaged to Linda, we often visited them in Offenburg.

Did you "inherit" your father's friendship with Franz Burda?

HR You could say that. After my father died, Franz Burda took good care of my mother. Franz and Aenne came to Bristol for the baptism of my son Thomas, and Franz became his godfather. Aenne was godmother to my younger son Richard.

Is there a similarly close bond with the Burda children?

HR Franz and his wife Christa came to Bristol when my retirement was commemorated with a special publication. Frieder supports my wife's artistic endeavors, and Hubert takes our personal welfare very much to heart. I am so happy that he, along with Michael Krüger of Hanser Verlag, ensured that my memoirs were published. The friendship with the Burda family has really enriched my intellectual and spiritual universe, something I have every reason to be very thankful for.

* first published in Ute Dahmen: Senator Dr. Franz Burda. Geschichten eines Lebens, Petrarca Verlag 2011, pp. 50-51

Literature on Hans Reiss

  • Hans Reiss: Erinnerungen aus 85 Jahren, Petrarca Verlag, ISBN 978-3871150074
  • Hans Reiss: Exile and Good Fortune – Memoirs from 95 Years, Petrarca Verlag, ISBN 978-3889781116