Past-due honor: Westfield resident’s Jewish great-grandfather finally gets proper recognition from German city


Aliza Shalit knew part of what her great-grandfather Paul Hirsch contributed to the German government.

But those contributions were wiped out when the Nazis came to power in the 1930s.

Shalit, a Westfield resident who works for the City of Carmel as a sign permit specialist, traveled to Dortmund, Germany, in late November 2023, when Hirsch was being honored for his contributions during a summit of European mayors to combat antisemitism.

“He played a big part in the creation of the great Berlin, taking all of these small towns around Berlin and making it into a truly large area under a single local government,” Shalit said of Hirsch. “From there, he was prime minister of Prussia (from 1918 to 1920) and then minister of the interior. Then they tried to have a coup (in Prussia), which basically failed. But during that time, a lot of people in government had to hide. So, he came back and became mayor of Dortmund in 1925 (by a vote of the city council). He took Dortmund, a really tiny town, and gathered all the towns around it and made a large, influential city.”

Hirsch retired from office because of health reasons in 1932, but when the Nazis took power in 1933, they took his pension away.

“They erased him from history,” Shalit said. “The (current) mayor of Dortmund said, ‘How does someone who has done so much become unknown?”

Forced to leave his home and move to a Jewish ghetto, Hirsch died on Aug. 1, 1940, at the age of 71.

“He died of malnutrition because of his poverty,” Shalit said. “There was no money and Jews were kicked out from one place to the other. They couldn’t get jobs. He was named an enemy of the state because of his involvement with politics.”

His wife died by suicide about a year later to avoid going to a concentration camp.

“More than 7,000 Jews in Berlin took their own lives,” Shalit said.

Shalit said the ceremony was very emotional.

“They are looking to make it part of a permanent exhibit,” Shalit said. “They are talking about giving a yearly prize in his name.”

Shalit said Hirsch supported arts and education and the award might be in those areas.

Shalit, 50, grew up in Peru and moved to San Diego when she was 15.

Hirsch had two daughters, Thea and Eva. Shalit’s grandmother, Thea, moved to Peru in 1936 to become a nanny for a family. Shalit’s great aunt, Eva, didn’t want to leave her parents, but in 1939 she was persuaded to go with a family as a nanny in England and then South Africa. She eventually got a sponsorship to the U.S.

“She had been kicked out of medical school in Germany because Jews were not allowed to go to school with other people,” Shalit said.

Shalit’s father, Leopoldo Kahn, 80, made the trip with his daughter and other family members.

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Aliza Shalit in front of a photo of her great-grandfather. (Photo courtesy of Aliza Shalit)

Never forgetting

Aliza Shalit’s niece, Adi Amit, attended a game with Borussia Dortmund, her boyfriend’s favorite team. There, she met a man, Daniel Lörcher, and told him that her great-great-grandfather Paul Hirsch was the mayor of Dortmund. Lorcher works with Borussia Dortmund to take a socially active role and to combat antisemitism. They stayed connected and the team visited with her great-grandfather, Leopoldo Kahn, when the team visited a Jewish school in San Diego.

Amit, who was born in Israel, gave a speech at the ceremony honoring Hirsch.

“It felt unreal, the fact that everyone is standing there and waiting to hear about my great-great-grandfather,” Amit said. “After reading about and hearing about the Holocaust so much, it was so unbelievable to think that only 80 years ago I would have been persecuted, like my ancestors. I felt an honor, not for me, but for him. Unfortunately, he lost everything — his pension, his wife, his own life. Up until that moment, there hasn’t been a proper memorial for him, so I was also happy to be involved, especially due to the fact it was a coincidence that I met Daniel Lörcher, who had a major part in this.”

Amit, who is a member of the Israel Defense Force, said after the Hamas terrorist attack on Israel Oct. 7, 2023,  she feels as a Jew she is at risk in the world.

“Everything can change for my people in just a second. I will be misjudged no matter what I do or say,” Amit said. “I find it more disgraceful and very sad, but unfortunately, not unbelievable (that Hirsch’s contributions were erased). It shows how thorough the whole process of the Holocaust has been, that it took him so long to be remembered for his political achievements. Without Oct. 7 happening, I assume that I would have felt honored and emotional for my great, great grandfather and my people.

“But after those horrendous acts taking place, I’ve felt like I have a voice, and that matters so much now, more than ever.”