German author Gunter Grass.
German author Gunter Grass. Photo by AP

The German publisher Luchterhand, which has published books by Gunter Grass and Christa Wolf, apparently had shady dealings with the Nazis during the first years of their regime.

According to an investigative report published over the weekend in the German newspaper Taz, Luchterhand bought the printing house owned by Otto Heinrich Scholz in 1939. Scholz was persecuted by the Gestapo because he was dating a Jewish woman, whom he eventually married. The two were forced to flee to Britain, and after they did, the Nazis took over Scholz's property and sold it.

The buyers were Heinz Luchterhand, son of publishing house founder Hermann Luchterhand, and Eduard Reifferscheid, a top executive at the firm. The report found that the two men worked enthusiastically with the Nazi regime in order to rob Scholz of his property.

This dark chapter in Luchterhand's past was recently discovered in the Berlin State Archive, which contains files documenting Scholz's attempts to receive compensation after the war. The publishing house itself has never revealed its Nazi past. In fact, Reifferscheid was depicted as anti-Nazi and in 1975, he received a medal of honor from the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany ). He died in 1992.

After WWII, the Luchterhand publishing house, established in Berlin in 1924, published books by writers such as Gunter Grass - author of "The Tin Drum" who was recently declared persona non grata in Israel after the publication of a poem that was critical of Israel. Other well-known Luchterhand authors include Christa Wolf, Jurek Becker and Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Among Israelis who published books with Luchterhand are Etgar Keret, Yehoshua Kenaz, Assaf Gavron and Yehoshua Sobol.

Company executives say they had no idea about their employer's history and have expressed gratitude to the newspaper for its research and publication of the information. Publisher Georg Reuchlein has sent a letter to Luchterhand's Israeli writers bringing them up to date on the newspaper's investigative report.

"It is still very early," wrote Reuchlein, "to reliably say what really happened in the Nazi era at Luchterhand. The Taz research at first look seems thoroughly researched and does sound plausible. If it is the whole truth I cannot judge. But I very much hope it will be only the beginning of researching the history of Luchterhand in the years 1933 to 1945, beyond what might, in the light of the Taz article, have to be called now a convenient post-war legend Eduard Reifferscheid invented for Luchterhand and himself.

"Thus," concluded the publisher, "please be assured we are very interested in having any potential machinations Luchterhand might have been involved in during the Third Reich brought completely to light."

The company has been through many changes over the years. It is now located in Munich and it belongs to the Random House group of the giant multinational media corporation, Bertelsmann.