Excerpt from a speech given by Birgit Bartl-Engelhardt on 6 March 2009 to mark the laying of a Stolperstein for Charlotte Kroner (née Leichtmann), Arthur Kroner and their daughter Meta at Friedrich Strasse 54, Berlin, the site of the “Zauberkönig”, the Leichtmann family’s ‘house of magic’:
“’Zauber’ – the word stands for mystery and magic. Indeed, much in the history of the Leichtmann/Zauberhaus family seems magical. But there was also a very dark chapter: the tragic fate of the Jewish Kroner family, who once enchanted people with their famed house of magic ‘Zauberhaus Friedrichstraße’. At the beginning of the last century, Josef and Leonia Leichtmann, a Jewish couple with four daughters and a son, shared their time between Vienna, Berlin and Munich. Josef Leichtmann lived for conjuring and magic. His son Max founded the music and theatre publishers’, ‘Arion’. The couple’s four daughters, Charlotte, Rosa, Melanie and Leonie inherited their father’s love of magic. Together with their husbands Arthur Kroner, János Bartl, Eduard Steinböck and Otto Mösch, the ‘magic sisters’ – as they were known in conjuring circles – set up businesses specializing in magic in Berlin, Hamburg, Cologne and Munich. In 1906, Charlotte, the eldest of the sisters, and her husband Arthur Kroner took over ‘Zauberkönig Berlin’, established by Josef Leichtmann in the late 19th century. Charlotte and Arthur had three daughters: Meta, Erna and Hilde. In the golden twenties, Berlin was a hub of variety theatre. Pleasure- and sensation-seeking was the order of the day; people wanted to be amazed and enchanted. ‘Zauberkönig Friedrichstraße’ – one of the oldest shops dedicated to magic – rode a wave of starry-eyed euphoria in a city that lived for glittering appearances.
Hitler’s seizure of power marked the introduction of an anti-Semitic, discriminatory and inhuman racial policy which culminated in persecution, deportation and destruction. Soon after the so-called Night of Broken Glass (or ‘Reichskristallnacht’), the fate of the family behind the ‘Zauberkönig Berlin’ was sealed. The business was placed in ‘Aryan hands’ in 1938, taken over by an employee, Regina Schmidt. Hilde Kroner, her sister Erna, her husband Sally Floersheimer and their two daughters Anneliese and Hannelore managed to escape to the U.S. in 1938. Hilde went on to become a well-known illusionist under the stage name ‘Hildeen’. Charlotte and Arthur Kroner and their eldest daughter Meta stayed back in Berlin, probably still hoping to get their business back – the ‘magical heart of their existence’.
In 1938, although the ‘Zauberkönig’ had not yet officially been expropriated, Jews were increasingly deprived of rights and isolated from the rest of society. Leaving Germany meant losing your assets. From 1941, deportations began on a systematic basis. In December 1942, ‘Zauberkönig Berlin’ was officially expropriated from Charlotte Kroner by a public notice in the official gazette, ‘Reichsanzeiger’. Charlotte’s daughter Meta, who managed the business, was arrested on Alexanderplatz in either 1941 or 1942 and taken to the police prison in Lehrter Strasse. From here she was sent on a terrible odyssey, deported with the ‘30th transport to the east, wave 44’ to Auschwitz, where she was murdered. With their daughter in the hands of Nazi thugs and their magic shop expropriated, Charlotte and Arthur were humiliated, desperate and unable to dispel the fear of deportation and the hunger, pain and misery it would bring. They were driven to take their own lives. Charlotte took poison and died on 31 January 1943. Her husband Arthur drank from the same cup and died on 2 April 1943. Charlotte and Arthur Kroner are buried on the Jewish cemetery in Weissensee, Berlin.”
The Berlin Magic Circle (Magische Zirkel von Berlin, MZB) took an active and honourable part in the laying of the Stolperstein at Friedrich Strasse 55 (formerly number 54) in memory of the Kroner family. The president and several members of the Magic Circle attended the small accompanying ceremony. Many Jewish members of the Magic Circle who were forced out by the Nazis were also commemorated that day.