The story of Jewish industrialist Julius Fromm, and the hugely successful condom business he built up in pre-war Germany is one of the more interesting tales I have come across in quite a while. In their new book, Fromm’s: How Julius Fromm’s Condom Empire Fell To The Nazis, authors Götz Ally and Michael Sontheimer explain the bizarre story from what bits of information have survived.
Julius Fromm was an entrepreneurial émigré from Russia, who sought his fortune in Germany. As history tells us, only tragedy lie in store for the Jews in Germany. But through dogged optimism and hard work, Fromm somehow thought he could beat the odds. He applied for, and was granted German citizenship (later revoked), and bragged of his “German outlook and diligence.”
After studying chemistry in evening courses, Fromm came upon the notion of manufacturing condoms. There was a huge, largely untapped market for them in the 1920’s, when he began mass-production of his Fromm’s Act condom. The business was highly successful, almost from the start. In German during those years, the name Fromm’s was as synonymous with his product as Trojan is today.
Fromm’s expanded internationally, and the family became fabulously wealthy. But from the moment the National Socialist party seized power in 1933, a very different business climate emerged. Fromm’s details the practically instantaneous accomplishments and growth of the company quite well. But things get a little hazy after the family fled, first to Paris, then London.
Most of their assets were seized by the Reich, although Fromm had many business contacts and friends who were able to help them, which was a very definite advantage. Much of the second half of the book details how the Nazis “legally” seized his property and the later court attempts by heirs to receive reparations in the case.
While these are important aspects of the story as a whole, the details are rather dry. It is to the author’s credit that they were able to piece as much of the saga of the Fromm family as they have. Most of the eye-witnesses are gone, and the few remaining family members were (to put it mildly) reluctant to talk.
Fromm’s: How Julius Fromm’s Condom Empire Fell To The Nazis is an entertaining, and enlightening book overall. It also shows that even today, nearly 80 years after their initial appearance, there are still stories to be told about the tragic reign of the Nazis.