Fritz Prager was born in Berlin on June 8, 1876 to Heinrich Prager and his wife, Sophie Mandelbaum Prager. He had a twin brother, Max, and an older brother, Alfons, born on April 9, 1875.
After completing school in Berlin, Fritz Prager entered his father’s textile business, Heinrich Prager, headquartered in Berlin. In 1900, he opened a branch of Heinrich Prager on Josephsplatz 8, Nuremberg, a building that he later purchased. H. Prager & Son, in Nuremberg was an upscale ladies’ department store, with dark walnut counters and crystal chandeliers. Fashionable ladies of Nuremberg shopped at H. Prager & Son for the latest in European fashion. Fritz Prager was a traditional and formal man. He lived in an apartment on the second floor at Josefsplatz 8, and came to work every day in a suit, high collar and tie.
He married Cilli Lissberger, who came from a family that had lived in Creglingen for generations. She joined him at Josephsplatz 8. On April 26, 1903, their only child, Sophie Prager, was born.
Fritz Prager joined the Landsturm-Infanterie-Bataillon Aschaffenburg II B 6 during World War I and was awarded an Iron Cross for valor. Returning home to Nuremberg after the war, he continued to manage H. Prager & Son, to great success.
Fritz Prager and his family worshipped at the Hauptsynagoge on the Hans Sachs Platz, where he served as the treasurer. He always exchanged his street hat for a silk top hat when he went to worship at the synagogue and kept that hat in a locker at the synagogue. (That synagogue was destroyed in August 1938 upon the orders of Julius Streicher on the grounds that it “disrupted the beautiful German cityscape.")
Fritz Prager and his wife, Cilli, enjoyed the culture and history of Nuremberg. When he was not working at H. Prager & Son, he would take her on motoring trips through Bavaria, Switzerland and northern Italy. But their pleasant lives in Nuremberg came to an end, for two reasons. Cilli Prager died of cancer on November 9, 1930. And the National Socialist German Workers Party and Adolf Hitler came to power.
In January 1933, Hitler was named Reich chancellor and moved to allow his party to rule without parliament and to govern by decree. Hitler launched a purge of Jews from German’s cultural institutions and introduced numerous other restrictions to bar Jews from participating in German life.
The government-sponsored anti-Semitism came as a great shock to Fritz Prager, who considered himself a patriotic German citizen of Jewish faith. Germany had been unified since 1871. Unlike other European countries, the German constitution had not excluded Jews from becoming German citizens. Fritz Prager did not believe that his non-Jewish friends and customers would stand for the indignities and restrictions that Hitler sought to impose on German Jews.
But he was wrong. After the Nazis adopted the Nuremberg laws, which deprived German Jews of their legal and civil rights, Fritz Prager believed that Jews had become strangers in their homeland. But it was one thing to realize that German Jews needed to leave Germany and another thing to find a country that would accept a 60 year-old man who only spoke German.
In September 1935, H. Prager & Son was dissolved and sold to Rudolf Richtarsky. Fritz Prager came to the U.S. in May 1936 to look for a distant relative who could sponsor his emigration. He declared that Americans were barbarians because they lacked the rich culture of his Bavarian homeland but recognized the need to leave Germany. He found a U.S. relative willing to support him in the U.S. in the event he was unable to earn a living.
In August 1938, he sold the building at Josephsplatz 8 to Rudolph Richtarsky and Marcus Warkotsch, who were members of the NSDAP. The proceeds from that sale was deposited as security for the Reich Emigration Tax and the Punitive Tax. (After the end of World War II, the German government considered the sales of his business and his building to have been forced sales.)
Before his departure on the S.S. Hansa in May 1939, Fritz Prager was forced to surrender his remaining bank accounts and his stocks to Reichsbank. He was also required to pay the Dego duty as an export fee.
Fritz Prager arrived in the U.S. on June 1, 1939, and joined his daughter, Sophie Prager Wertheimer and her husband, Erich Wertheimer, and their son, Franc Wertheimer, in Kew Gardens, New York. Because he had been forced to surrender all of his assets to the Reich prior to his departure, he was left penniless at age 63 and sold cigars door to door to earn money.
Fritz Prager died of cancer on March 2, 1954.
Laura Wertheimer, March 14, 2021