Who do you think you are?
Jerry Springer

Jerry Springer - how we did it

Father: Richard Springer

We had learned from the Jewish Refugee Committee records in London that Jerry’s father, Richard Springer, was born in a place called Landsberg in Germany. We also knew that he owned a shoe shop there. He inherited the shoe shop from his father and ran it from 1930 to 1937, when he moved to Berlin. Jerry was keen to find out more about this business, how it had fared during an increasingly turbulent time, and why his father had moved to the city.

Step 1 - Local Archives

We set out for Landsberg, Richard's German hometown. However, Landsberg no longer exists. Due to the border changes agreed at the Potsdam Conference at the end of the Second World War in 1945, areas of some pre-war German provinces have become part of Poland, and Landsberg is now called Gorzow Wielkopolski.

We wanted to visit the local archives, since these usually hold many records that provide revealing information about the businesses and community of the area.

Where former German provinces lie in modern-day Eastern Europe, German language records are often held in the local branch of the Polish state archives. So we went to the Gorzow Wielkopolski State Archive (see Related Links). This archive holds the records of the earlier German administration of the city of Landsberg, including records of building and renovation work, maps and plans. It also contains civil records (birth, marriage and death registration documents) and local papers.

We met local researcher Krzysztof Dzieciolowski, who had found planning permission documentation for Jerry's father's shop. The plans showed the design for the shop front, looking exactly as Jerry had seen in photographs of his father's business. We discovered that Richard Springer had run his successful shoe shop in a prime location in the bustling town of Landsberg. He had apparently been part of a small community of Jews in the town, many of whom also owned shops.

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Jerry at the site of his father's shop in Landsberg.

It was good to know that Richard's business had thrived, but Jerry still wanted to know why he would leave behind this lucrative business to go to Berlin.

Step 2 - Local Newspapers

Again, we turned to newspapers to determine the context in which Richard was living and working.

Local newspapers, usually held at local archives or libraries, can give lots of information about events in a community, its businesses, local individuals and families. Jerry and Krzysztof looked at the local paper, the Landsberger General Anzeiger, particularly articles from April 1933, a few months after Hitler came to power.

We found that the paper included articles about Nazis running for local office, and also carried huge Nazi adverts telling residents: 'Do not buy from Jewish merchants! Do not use Jewish accountants! Avoid Jewish doctors!'.

Jerry was reminded that all Jewish shops had to carry a sign showing they were Jewish, and realised how difficult it must have been for Jewish shop owners like his father to keep their businesses afloat under such circumstances.

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Jerry looks at the local Landsberg newspaper from 1933.

It was clear that there had been growing antisemitic feeling in Landsberg, and that Richard and Margo were part of a very small minority in the provincial town. Jerry now understood exactly why Richard had decided to leave for the larger, more anonymous and hopefully less hostile city of Berlin.

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