The story of Martin Lachmann

The fate of Martin Lachmann, insurance agent at Allianz


Peter Haas has only very vague memories. After all, he was just four years old when he last saw his grandfather, Martin Lachmann. He was very generous, gave him a pedal car, took him to the theater, and the chauffeur drove them both around Berlin in the company car. That was in 1938. He knows what happened after that only from letters his grandfather wrote and the little that his family told him later.

On October 22, 1941 Martin Lachmann writes to his daughter Ruth and his son-in-law Leopold Haas, who are living in exile in Sweden. It is his last letter. On November 14, 1941, a train departs the Berlin-Grunewald station, deporting him and more than 1,000 other victims of persecution. If the official data is correct, he never witnessed the end of the four-day journey in the Minsk Ghetto. He is said to have died on November 16th.
Martin Lachmann with his grandson Peter Haas in 1938.
Portrait of Martin Lachmann.
Martin Lachmann was an ideal employee of Allianz: energetic, successful, confident, and loyal to the very end. He was born on September 16, 1881 in Lower Silesian Glogau an der Oder. Around the turn of the century he moved to Berlin with his parents and his three sisters, Lucie, Frieda, and Judith, and worked in the field for an insurance company beginning in 1907. He was married to Aenne Alsberg (1885-1942), who descended from a rich family of mall entrepreneurs in the Rhineland. In 1911, their daughter Ruth Ernestine was born.
At Allianz, Martin Lachmann built his career as a general agent and administered the flourishing agency ‘Subdirektion Lachmann’ in Berlin-Charlottenburg. From its establishment in 1929 through 1937, he was member of the so-called “Club of Millions” of the most successful insurance agents.

Unlike most Jewish Germans, Martin Lachmann initially managed to keep his position and his earnings even after 1933.
Gradually, however, his world became more and more threatened by antisemitism. In 1938, he began considering the possibility of emigration. Hans Heß, general director of Allianz, was called in to pave a way for Lachmann to a position in Switzerland. But Lachmann’s wariness grew. About three weeks before the Pogrom Night on 20th October 1938, he wrote to his daughter Ruth and her husband in Stockholm:
A week later came the bad news: in a personal conversation, Hans Heß explained to him that Allianz would have to cancel his labor contract at the end of the year 1938. Martin Lachmann’s first reaction was understanding: “The gentlemen of the company wish me well and also acknowledge unconditionally the exceptional service I rendered (…). However, the circumstances maybe are more powerful than the willingness of my superiors.”   

Still, he hoped for employment in Switzerland. But shortly afterwards the next shock followed: Allianz’s legal adviser Hans Goudefroy, later general director at Allianz, and Hans Heß explained to their longstanding employee that he would only receive a third of the contractually agreed yearly support. The political circumstances would not allow to pay a Jewish retiree a retirement income of this amount.
Portrait of Martin Lachmann as soldier of the German army.
Article in the Allianz employee magazine showing Martin Lachmann awarded a medal of honor in 1933.
In the antisemitic Nazi-state’s system of injustice there was no possibility for Martin Lachmann to defend himself against these cutbacks. He had to vacate his flat, cut his expenses, sublease from then on, and hope for a life in Switzerland. But local authorities hesitated, so that in the following years he pursued various possibilities for emigration, supported by his family in Sweden and occasionally by other relatives and acquaintances. But over the course of time, all potential possibilities shattered.

Martin Lachmann’s letters prove his longing for his family, especially his beloved but unreachably distant grandchild. At the same time, he was anxious to ease their worries concerning his increasingly alarming situation..

Then, on October 18, 1941, more than 1,000 Berlin Jews were deported with the first Berlin deportation-train to Litzmannstadt (Łódź) in Poland, occupied by Nazi Germany. On November 14 the train deporting Martin Lachmann and more than 1,000 other persecutees to Minsk departed from Berlin-Grunewald Station. Martin Lachmann died on the journey. He never saw his beloved grandchild again.
In 1999, Allianz contacted Peter Haas. It was late, he says, but at least it happened. Allianz was facing up to its past. The historian Gerald D. Feldman had researched the company's history during the Nazi era and sought dialogue. Three years later, Allianz's employee magazine reports on it. Peter Haas tells what he knows about his grandparents; what he has found out over many years of research about the fate of his family. He leafs through old photos and explains how history has become the theme of his life. Until he retired, he was a history teacher and principal of a school in Sweden. The escape from Germany, at which his grandparents did not succeed, left its mark on him, his mother Ruth, and his father Leopold throughout their lives: "I know what it means to be an immigrant." Dangers to freedom exist in every society and at every time, there are no guarantees. To recognize them, one has to look and act. To Peter Haas, history is the most important key for unlocking the future.
Peter has in the study-room at his house in Sweden (2002)

1907 Insurance agent for Allianz in Berlin

1920s to 1933 One of the most successful agents of Allianz

1939 The total economic and social exclusion of Jews from German society results in the termination of Martin Lachmann’s contract with Allianz.

Martin Lachmann is deported to Minsk in November 1941. He died on the journey. His wife was murdered in front of her house in Munich on January 13, 1942.

Gerd Modert
Corporate Historian

Phone +49 89 3800 66062