The Guggenheim File
by Sylvia [Guggenheim] Griffiths
The author’s inspiration to write The Guggenheim File
One could say that the author’s drive to write The Guggenheim File was fueled by something that came quite out of the blue: an email from someone who was doing research on the Guggenheim family in Hamburg. During a visit to the Hamburg State Archives, she came face-to-face with the documents in Die Akte Guggenheim, a file that survived the wear and tear of time. Collectively they describe, in excruciating detail, exactly how the Nazis targeted her paternal ancestors and stripped them of everything they owned and cherished. This stunning revelation ignited Ms. Griffiths’ willful need to confront her parent’s past and unearth the family traumas that were never discussed during her upbringing in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
What is in fact Die Akte Guggenheim?
Die Akte Guggenheim is a hefty file, housed in Hamburg’s State Archive, which contains documents from the Nazi era—all pertaining to one particular Jewish family, the Guggenheims. They painstakingly record the Third Reich’s relentless attempts to target, harass, and strip the Guggenheims of all their possessions, their businesses, and their property. The author’s first encounter with the contents of Die Akte Guggenheim (the Guggenheim file, in German) served as the starting point for the research of her father’s family history. Heinrich Zwi Guggenheim, the author’s father, was sent to England by his parents in a Kindertransport. When he volunteered to join the British Army, his unit gave him the anglicized moniker of ‘Henry Griffiths’. After his return from service in the Asia-Pacific theatre, it became his legal name.
What is it about?
The Guggenheim File depicts the author’s emotionally wrenching journey in search of her family’s history. Through ancestral histories and personal reminiscences, she offers a glimpse into the lives of German Jews in the years and months leading up to World War II and the Holocaust; their desperate escape from their homeland; their resettlement in a distant foreign country; and ultimately, their struggle to put the past behind them.
Part family memoir, part autobiography—this book takes the reader through history and across the globe—as the author uncovers the truth about her parent’s lives, while trying to make sense of her place in the world.
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