March, 27, 1952 was a calm and cool day of post-war Munich. Suddenly at 6.20 pm, in one of the city police offices a loud sound of an explosion was heard. Later this event was covered by all the media.
Joseph Kronstein was a Lutsk teenager of 1930s. He visited cinemas called “Słońce” and “Czary”, he would pop in to have some coffee at Rosalini’s, and in the evenings he used to attend a private membership club that had well-defined aims and ideology. Having survived the war in Switzerland, in 1950s this representative of those born with a silver spoon, happened to be in the center of international politics.
Collage by Oleksandr Kotys
The Munich present for the Chancellor
At 5 pm the main Munich railway station was crowded, when the train was standing still, and passengers were getting on board. However, very soon many of them disappeared and the platform was left almost deserted. Two boys saw a man wearing a gray coat and a hat. They thought he looked strange, because he was fidgeting and didn’t resemble a Bavarian. He approached them and started a conversation.
The stranger offered 3 Marks to the boys and asked them to bring a parcel to the post office. When the man was giving the parcel, the boys noticed that one fingernail must have underwent deformation – it covered just a tiny part of the finger that should have been covered with a nail. They boys read to whom the parcel was supposed to be delivered: «An dem Bundeskanzler Dr. Konrad Adenauer, Bundeshaus Bonn».
The man apologized for not having much time to chat – his train was about to leave. Nevertheless, when the boys left, he followed them. The children considered it all to be very strange and decided to go to a police office instead of going to the post. And they made the right decision.
Karl Reichert, a policeman, went down to the basement to open the parcel. He was surprised when he saw that the parcel had a book inside, Der kleine Brockhaus (The Brockhaus Dictionary). Not taking his time to think, he opened the book. That was the moment when the loud sound of an explosion was heard. 500 grams of explosive agent destroyed the room and killed Reichert. Two policemen were heavily wounded, other three received minor injuries.
The accident became known to general public. In a while the Chancellor invited two boys, who brought the bomb to the police office, to an official reception and gave them two gold watches as a sign of thankfulness for their thoughtfulness.
Address on the package. This picture and others in the article (if the caption doesn't say anything else) were taken from the book Attentat auf Adenauer by Hennig Sietz
The police station after the explosion
Werner Breitschopp and Bruno Beyersdorf, who were given the bomb at the railway station, are reading about themselves in Abendzeitung newspaper
Adenauer presenting the golden watches to the boys
What was Adenauer’s fault?
Konrad Adenauer was the first Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany. At the same time, he was the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the first leader of the Christian Democratic Union. His rule is the symbol of the country’s renaissance. He managed to ensure gradual liberation of Germany from external influences and strengthen its independence. Adenauer was able to bring the country back onto the international political scene.
One of the politician’s important steps was to introduce payment of reparations. At that time David Ben-Gurion was the Prime Minister of Israel. He and Adenauer had an agreement about Germany paying big amount of money to Israel. However, not everyone accepted this idea. In particular, some people in Israel did not consider this to be a good idea. Jewish radical organizations were among those who rejected it.
The attempt on Adenauer’s life coincided with an active phase of negotiations about the reparations between Germany and Israel. Both leaders were looking for mutual understanding at the negotiations, because Adenauer considered the agreement with Israel to be a necessary condition of Western integration, and Ben Gurion, in his turn, was interested in negotiations, because his country was about to face bankruptcy.
How the Kronsteins appeared in the investigation
Detectives were chasing down clues and found traces of a group of people living in Munich, in a house. The people were different from other dwellers in a way that they all lived on the same floor and they would often gather together to have some conversations. The police were suspicious of them, because the group didn't socialize in any way with other residents of the house. All of them were in conflict with authorities. There were two brothers belonging to the group. Those were Abraham and Joseph Kronstein who, according to the data the police had, lived in Munich and studied medicine. Abraham had been confined in a concentration camp for 41 month, which was later approved. He received compensation of 6150 Marks and emmigrated to Israel at the beginning of 1949.
At first the detectives found trace of someone called Mario Mirelli. He was the one to have given the bomb to the boys at the railway station. They wanted to trace and arrest him. Nevertheless, as the investigation showed, there was no person called Mirelli; this was a nickname, a real person should be searched for in the group. Suspicion fell on a guy, born in Lutsk, whose name was Abraham Kronstein.
The portrait of the mythical Mirelli, published in Munich press
Detectives kept him under observation. They questioned witnesses and gathered enough evidence to arrest him. Former Lutsk resident behaved quite aggressively, he rejected everything. Bavarian detectives found it hard to make him tell the truth. The reason was that he was in no way connected with the act of terrorism they were investigating and he didn't consider himself to be guilty in any way. A Jew who survived all the hardships of WWII because of the Germans, had to obey during the questioning that was conducted by the representatives of the German state. The reason for his irritation was obvious. He also refused to talk about his brother Joseph Kronstein under any circumstances.
However, having questioned more witnesses the detectives switched their attention from Abraham to his brother Joseph Kronstein who never tried to hide away, living his life to the full. Joseph liked to attend dancing halls of Schwabing (historical district in Munich), he was the leader of Jewish Students Association in Bavaria and sometimes took part in religious life of Israeli Jewish community in Munich. Nevertheless, he was like a phantom for the detectives. It was hard to get him, but he was thought to be an important person in the case of attempt on Adenauer's life.
What concerned Joseph Kronstein, the police figured out that he was banned from entering Switzerland. So, hypothetically, he could have received counterfeit documents with the help of a person who had helped Abraham with the documents, too. The Munich police requested their colleagues from Zurich canton to send the detailed case file of Joseph Kronstein. And they did, sending it with photos and fingerprints.
The reconstruction of the bomb made by the police
The key role in the investigation was played by Elke Gruber, Joseph's fiancee, who decided to tell the police everything she knew. For instance, she claimed that the last time she had seen her fiance was in February, 1952, because in March he had said he was supposed to take some exams, pathology being one of the subjects. The detectives began suspecting that organization of the attempt was coming to an end, so Joseph needed time to prepare everything well. Having questioned even more people and having built logical connections between the things they leant, Joseph Kronstein was suspected to have brought the book with the bomb.
The Kronstein family were the richest family in their home town
Lutsk is one of the oldest cities of Ukraine, an ancient center of the historical region of Volyn, being a multinational city like many other European ones. The history of Jewish community begins from the times of Kyivan Rus. Approximately, from the middle of XIX century and to WWII the Jews consituted the majority of the Lutsk population. The history of the Kronstein family, who were Austrian subjects, can be traced back to 1860s. Rachel and her husband Joseph were involved in selling wood. The family income grew very fast (or, probably, it could have been big enough earlier) and in 1880s the Kronsteins were the richest Jewish family in the city.
Rachel and Joseph had two children and a few grandchildren. All of them continued their parents' business and maintained their family status and influence even more.
Their son Illia became a banker, he owned a lot of land, houses and various enterprises. He was married to Mina Kronstein, whose sister married the chief rabbi of Budapest in the time period between WWI and WWII. By the end of 1930s Leon Kronstein, Illia's nephew, owned more than 50 houses in Lutsk. The local press referred to him as a millionaire. His father Mark was also an important house owner having business partners abroad.
Mina and Illia Kronstein. The picture is taken from the family archive of Elias Kronstein, the grandson
Pilsudsky Street (modern Vynnychenka Street), one of the main streets of Lutsk in 1930s
Lutsk used to be a vibrant and also cosy city in the time period between WWI and WWII. It faced modernization with all its tendencies, the city population grew, and so did the number of buildings. It was the administrative center of Volynian Voivodeship so the local authorities put all the effort to make Lutsk look presentable.
At that time Lutsk was the city of neighbouring cultures: the Poles, the Karaites, the Ukrainians, the Czech, the Germans and the Jews lived together without any trace of conflict. They attended the same cinemas and restaurants, had some rest on the banks of river Styr. The peaceful and at the same time vibrant city life was happening nearby the walls of the ancient castle, monasteries and churches.
The family of Illia and Mina Kronstein had two children: Joseph (born in 1918) and Abraham (born in 1925). Those were the children born with silver spoon, they could afford everything. They often travelled abroad, they had whatever they wanted, had access to any kind of education. For instance, in 1937 Joseph Kronstein entered Department of Medicine of Vienna University. He was present at Heldenplatz during Adolf Hitler's ceremonial announcement of the Austrian Anschluss to Nazi Germany. Next day he returned to Lutsk. He did so maybe because he was scared of potential attack on him as a Jew. Soon he came back to Vienna. On December, 8, 1938 Joseph K. emmigrated to Switzerland through Austria and applied to enter Department of Medicine, University of Bern. So he never faced the tragic difficulties that other Jews did during WWII.
Joseph first appeared in Munich in 1950. Somewhat earlier Abraham and Mina, his mother, arrived there. Both brothers happened to be the central figures in the case of attempt on Adenauer.
Was the case dismissed not to poke the bear?
After the attempt on Adenauer there were a few similar attempts on other influencial politicians. The investigation of those cases led to the traces of members of extremist organizations Irgun and Herut. Five people were arrested in France and deported. The investigation approached the attempt on Adenauer in the context of broader terrorist movement.
All the abovementioned was decided not to be made public not to encourage antisemitism. In Israel it was rather helpful for the right wing representatives who wanted to fight against everything connected with Germany, because they thought that "all the Germans were killers".
Adenauer, the Chancellor, made a difficult decision. He intruded in the process when the name of the main suspect became known, and asked not to make this fact known to the German press. Adenauer said: "As for me, this is an act of a madman. As any decent German doesn't want to identify themselves with the mad acts of sadist Gestapo officers, I refuse to put the load of stupid fanaticism of a person on Judaism as a whole only because the person is a Jew."
Joseph Kronstein. The picture is taken from the family archive of Elias Kronstein
Abraham (Joseph's brother) Kronstein. The picture is taken from the family archive of Elias Kronstein
Years passed, the investigation process was going on, but it didn't seem to be effective or goal-directed. Joseph Kronstein and some other suspects escaped to Israel. And the Chancellor's attitude to the situation didn't motivate anyone to find the suspects. Time was passing and the case was becoming dated. In 1978 the Prosecutor General of Munich concluded: "The investigation does not provide enough ground to accuse the suspects. According to the current state of the case... we do not have enough evidence to accuse K." The case was officially closed.
Notwithstanding the fact that the general background of attempt on Adenauer is clear, the specific reasons are not evident. Perhaps, the act was aimed at raising awareness of the society, it was supposed to become a protest against the new relations between Germany and Israel. Elias Kronstein, a nephew of Joseph, the bomb carrier, with whom the author of this article communicated, says that he never asked Joseph about his motivation to do what he had done. Joseph died in Israel and was buried there, having taken with him the specific details of the case and his own perspective of what he'd done.
...In 2003 Henning Sietz, a German journalist, wrote a book called Attentat auf Adenauer (Attempt on Adenauer). It was based on documents that were preserved by the Main Bavarian Archive in Munich and drew attention of society to the forgotten events again.
Translated by Olena KOTYS.